Saturday, August 7, 2010

Linguine Frutti di Mare (Seafood Pasta) by Jess

Before we moved to Italy I liked pasta. But being based in Tuscany for 2 years, I came to LOVE pasta. For the Italians pasta is an essential part of their day like water (or wine).  Without any exaggeration, an Italian will not go one day without having had pasta for lunch or dinner. And who can blame them?  It is filling, inexpensive, healthy and completely satisfying – if made correctly.

I have mentioned this in my earlier blog but it can not be said enough. If an Italian saw how the majority of Americans eat pasta (Boil pasta, put on plate and pour sauce - usually out of a jar - on top) they would DIE. That’s like putting ketchup on a doughnut – it’s just WRONG.

The pasta and the sauce (always homemade) have to be “married” together in the pan before you can serve it – it’s like the golden rule of making pasta that, for some reason, never made it’s way to American kitchens – but I am here to save the day!

And as for sauces, there are so many easy ones to make that if you keep reading this blog (whoever you are) I promise you will never have to buy another bottle of Ragu again.

My first pasta recipe (Pasta Pomodoro) was very simple and modest. Linguine al Fruitti di Mare is anything but modest.  It is luxurious – but very easy. It’s the perfect dish if you are having people over for dinner and want to impress them – without breaking the bank and without spending 4 hours in the kitchen. It’s a one-dish dinner that only needs to be accompanied by a mixed greens salad and some nice bread. Followed by Strawberry Pezzo (Crazy Strawberries) – a 5 minute dessert – and your guests will be clawing their way back to your table very soon! (So only invite people you really like – leave your co-workers to suffer Ragu in their own kitchens)

So good luck ! Mamma Mia!

2 ½ -3 lbs mixed seafood, (mussels, clams, shrimp, calamari) – depending on your budget. 2 ½ lbs is enough but you can add more.
Buying fresh calamari in Europe is very easy but you may have to ask your fishmonger to order some or buy it frozen. I am NOT talking about breaded calamari for frying!!!! I am talking about squid (that’s what calamari means in Italian) – they are long white (or purple, if they have not yet been cleaned) tubes that you slice into rings or stuff whole. The tentacles are equally delicious and should be eaten - not thrown away. You have probably eaten them fried so take that disgusted look off your face! If worse comes to worse and you can’t find the calamari (my favorite bit) then just replace it with extra mussels and shrimp.

1/4 Cup Olive Oil
½ Cup (4 oz.) White Wine
1 ½ lb ripe cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes
1 lb. linguine
6 garlic cloves, sliced
A pinch of dried chili flakes
¼ cup chopped parsley
Salt & Pepper
Good Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil (optional)

Scrub and de-beard the mussels. (This means pulling off any hairy little bit that is along the flat side of the mussel.) Scrub the clams. If you want to be “European” then leave the shells on the shrimp (heads too, if you want to be “really European).)  This adds flavor to the sauce and keeps the shrimp moist. Plus, it makes less work for you in the kitchen (but a little more work for your guests while eating). Thoroughly clean and thinly slice your calamari into rings.

Put your clams and mussels in a saucepan with the wine. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for 3-4 minutes until they all open. Discard any shells that have not opened.  Put the mussels and clams aside and pour the liquid in the pan through a fine sieve and reserve.

Cut your tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds. Discard the seeds. If they are really big cherry tomatoes then cut the halves into quarters.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. (Add the salt once the water has boiled as water boils faster without salt in it.)

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large sauté pan and add the garlic and chili flakes. Allow garlic to cook until fragrant and sizzling but not golden, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and simmer 5 minutes. Add the cooking liquid from the mussels and clams. Bring to a boil and then allow to cook until sauce has thickened a bit into a sauce-like consistency.  Don’t let it cook off too much though or you won’t have enough lovely sauce to coat the pasta in.

Add your linguine to the boiling water and cook one minute less than it recommends on the box. Use your timer!!!! Otherwise you will forget and have overcooked pasta!

Add the shrimp and calamari to the sauce and cook 2-3 minutes until they are cooked through. Don’t overcook them – calamari, especially, will become tough and rubbery if you overcook it. Add the mussels, clams and parsley and heat through.

Lastly: the important step – I explained this with my last pasta recipe but will do it again – you need to add the pasta to the sauce – not the other way around! Add the pasta to the saucepan and toss over medium heat, incorporating the pasta and the sauce and allowing the starch of the pasta to soak up the lovely sauce and the TWO  (pasta and sauce) to become ONE (Linguine al Fruitti di Mare!).
While doing this taste the pasta for seasoning. The water from the mussels and clams will have added a natural saltiness but if you think it needs salt and pepper then add some while tossing – pasta is like every other food out there – it can be seasoned! If you want, drizzle lightly with a nice extra-virgin olive oil.
Tip your pasta on to a large serving platter. 

My last tip is this:  Pasta that has fish or seafood in it is NEVER served with parmesan cheese in Italy – it’s a cardinal sin.  Think about it – cheese and fish? Kinda gross. But, I will not be in your dining room, telling you how to live your lives and how to eat your food so do what you want – God will be your judge (HA! Just kidding!).