Big, abundant Italian dinners were a major part of my youth. I was not really a seafood guy back then, but these wonderful, flavorful, stuffing-like morsels were my first and favorite gateway into seafood and still evoke a sense of nostalgia eating them today. Instead of the traditional Italian breadcrumbs, I like to use potato rolls or Hawaiian bread because they have a sweetness that echoes the clams themselves.
Swap option: Chorizo can work for bacon if cooked well and chopped finely, and commercially bought clam juice can serve in place of reserved cooking liquid. My Aunt Margie substitutes the canned clams for half a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup. It adds a wonderful, quiche-like texture and the little pieces of mushrooms are very similar to the pieces of clam.
Preheat oven to broil. Place bay leaf in baking dish and layer clams side-by-side over it. Add a small amount of water, enough to just cover the very bottom of the baking dish.2.
Cover with foil and broil 8-10 minutes until all clams are open. Remove clams from oven. Set clams on plate or tray and allow to cool.3.
Discard bay leaf from baking tray but reserve the liquid. Carefully pour this clam broth into a heat safe dish, ideally a Pyrex measuring cup.4.
While clams are cooling, combine breadcrumbs, melted butter, Parmesan, bacon bits, oregano, salt, pepper, garlic, onion, parsley, bell pepper and canned clams. Add 3 tablespoons of reserved broth to the filling and mix it in. All ingredients can be incorporated in a food processor, if desired.5.
Once clams have cooled, separate the top and bottom shell. Easiest method for doing this is grabbing the empty half and twisting (like opening a bottle or spinning a top). It should come off fairly easily.6.
Using a paring knife, separate clams from the bottom of the shell, but leave clams in the shell.7.
Place clams on the half shell on a baking sheet, and spoon a heaping portion of filling on top of each clam. Be generous! Once all clams are stuffed, place under broiler for 8-10 minutes until tops are golden brown and crispy.8.
Serve hot with wedges of lemon, if desired.