28 January 2011

From the Chef ~ Notes from the Riviera: Penne al Polpo di Granchio



Like learning a language, the best way to grasp a foreign kitchen is to just go there and eat.  And that is what I do wherever I go—whether it’s pomegranate juice and tahini in the streets of Cairo or grilled chorizo in a Oaxacan market or pizza, pasta, and focaccia anywhere in Italy.  Whatever the risk (and, yes, I have paid dearly for my adventuresome ways!), the reward is always greater when indulging in and comprehending the palette of another nation.  I eat and drink—and when it’s particularly memorable, I shoot a photo and even take notes.  Here’s one of those memorable meals from my diaries… Pasta with a Rosé Crab Sauce.  I had this plate of pasta circa July, 1998, in Corniglia, the middle and smallest—and my favorite—town of the famous Cinque Terre along the Italian Riviera.  I’ve recreated this one a few times and it pleasurably evokes that dish before me long ago.  Here are the notes that draw me back to that pranzo  humid high-80s day, damp swim trunks and a backpack, a rustic Mediterranean hamlet atop vine-covered hills that plummet instantly to the sea, a great plate of pasta.  An afternoon at Cecio’s, a ma-and-pa trattoria with pasta al pesto, wine from the hills, and fresh, grilled, whole branzino smiling at you.  Here are my notes, here’s my educated guess for you...

1. Heat water and prepare 1 lb. of pasta, preferably fresh.
2. Meanwhile, sauté a bit of minced onion or shallot (1/2 cup?) in some olive oil until translucent but not browned.
3. Add some pureed tomato (one 28 oz. can?) and simmer on medium for a bit to release some of the liquid (5 min.).
4. Add some cream (1/2 cup?  if we were in Italia, it’d be panna) and cook a bit to release some of the liquid.  Now add some crab meat (1/3 lb.?) and heat until just warm.
5. Add some fresh thyme and parsley—basil and a splash of cream sherry would be truly a decadent alternative.  Add al dente pasta and cook together briefly.  Serve and enjoy!