Pancetta, an Italian bacon cured with salt and spices, adds depth of flavor to this chunky seafood soup. Be careful when seasoning, because pancetta, clams, and clam juice tend to be salty enough. Look for chowder clams or ocean quahogs, which are just the right size and flavor for this recipe. Purchase shells that are tightly closed; otherwise, tap them lightly, and if they don't snap shut discard them immediately. You can make broth a day in advance and store, covered, in refrigerator; add clams just before serving, and cook until clams open.
2 ounces (1/3 cup) pancetta, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
4 celery ribs, diced (1 cup)
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped (1 cup)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
6 cups chicken broth
4 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes (1 pound)
4 ears corn, cooked and kernels removed, reserving 2 cobs
Cook pancetta in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring frequently, 5 minutes or until crispy. Remove pancetta from pan, and drain on a paper towel; set aside. Heat oil in same pan; add onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or until tender. Add celery and bell pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 more minutes. Add garlic, and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute.
Add clam juice, broth, potato, and reserved corncobs to Dutch oven, and bring to a low boil; reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 25 minutes or until potato is tender. Mash a small amount of potato to help thicken soup to desired consistency. Remove corncobs, and discard.
Add corn kernels, clams, sea salt, and pepper, and increase heat to medium-high; cook 7 minutes or just until clams open. Remove from heat, and stir in parsley and chives; add more sea salt and pepper, if desired. To serve, divide clams evenly among individual bowls, and spoon soup over the clams. Top with pieces of crispy pancetta, and serve immediately. Garnish, if desired.