First, make the croutons: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the bread cubes in a large bowl and drizzle with just enough oil to coat them lightly and evenly. Sprinkle with the parsley, season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss well. Spread them evenly in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake until crispy and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool. If not using immediately, store in an airtight container at room temperature.
When you’re ready to make the soup, first assemble a bouquet garni: Place the thyme and parsley sprigs, garlic cloves, and peppercorns in the center of a square of cheesecloth large enough to hold them comfortably; then, gather up the corners and tie securely with kitchen string to make a neat bundle.
In a large saucepan, put the wine, water, and bouquet garni. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the clams, cover with a lid, and cook until the clams open, about 5 minutes. Strain the clams through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a bowl, reserving both the cooking liquid and the clams.
Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot enough to swirl easily, add the bacon and sauté until crispy, 3-4 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, and sauté, stirring continuously, for 1 minute more. Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds. Add the celery and carrot and sauté, stirring frequently, until tender, 5-7 minutes. Stirring continuously, sprinkle the flour into the pan to make a loose paste, adding a little more oil if the mixture seems dry. Do not let the paste brown.
Stirring continuously, immediately pour the strained clam liquid into the pan. Add 1 fresh thyme sprig. Bring the liquid to a gentle boil, adjust the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook uncovered for 30 minutes. Add the potato, milk, lemon juice, and cayenne and continue simmering until the potato is tender, 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, pull the clams from their shells and roughly chop them. When the potato is tender, return the clams to the pan, add the cream, and season to taste with salt and pepper, stirring well. Continue simmering until the clams are heated through, 3-5 minutes more.
Ladle the chowder into heated serving bowls. Garnish each bowl with croutons. Serve immediately.
Yield: 6 servings
(Chef Wolfgang Puck’s TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays on the Food Network. Also, his latest cookbook, “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy,” is now available in bookstores. Write Wolfgang Puck in care of Tribune Media Services Inc., 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, N.Y. 14207.)
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