40 fresh whole littleneck clams, scrubbed (about 2½ pounds)
2 slices applewood-smoked or black pepper bacon
⅓ cup finely diced red onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
¼ teaspoon salt, preferably Kosher
1 whole jarred roasted red bell pepper, well drained and finely diced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 ounces Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar, grated (about ½ cup)
BRING about 2 cups water to simmer in Dutch oven or large heavy saucepan. Add clams, cover pan and cook until shells have just opened, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard any broken or unopened clams.
PULL off and discard top shell of each clam. Carefully run tip of paring knife around meat to loosen from bottom, leaving in shell. Place clams on serving platter.
COOK bacon until crisp, about 5 minutes in medium skillet over medium heat. Remove from pan, crumble and set aside.
ADD onion, garlic, thyme and salt to fat remaining in skillet; cook, stirring often, until onion is lightly caramelized, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add bell pepper and vinegar and cook until mixture is just heated through.
SPOON evenly over clams; top with cheese and reserved crumbled bacon.