Pasta Tagliatelle with Nantucket Bay Scallops 73
Linguine with Clams, Pancetta, and Red Pepper Flakes 74
Spaghetti alla Chitarra with Sea Urchins and Crabmeat 77
Rigatoni with Tuna Bolognese 79
Spaghetti with Tuna Meatballs 80
Spaghetti with Lobster and Chiles 84
Tagliatelle with Shrimp and Peas 86
Fettuccine with Shrimp and Radicchio 87
Fettuccine with Rock Shrimp, Corn, and Jalapeño 88
Fettuccine with Rock Shrimp, Cherry Tomatoes, and Feta 90
Risotto with Lobster and Black Trumpet Mushrooms 92
Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Fresh Sardines and Walnuts 94
Bucatini with Rita’s Spicy Baby Octopus Sauce 96
Chitarra with Tuna Bottarga and Bread Crumbs 97
Ricotta Gnocchi 98
Corkscrew Pasta with Scallops and Pesto 101
When most cooks and eaters think about seafood and pasta, they think about linguine with clam sauce. But at my house and at my restaurant, we combine pasta and seafood in really cool ways that go far beyond clam sauce. Some I learned on trips to Italy with friends and family. Others I learned from sitting around the table talking to colleagues, like my partners, Molto and Joe and Lidia Bastianich. And some combinations just come to me as a by-product of what pastas I have on hand and what seafood comes into the restaurant that day. If somebody calls me with some beautiful squid, I create a pasta special with squid and spicy tomato sauce. Nothing earthshatteringly original there, just commonsense cooking that people gravitate to naturally. In general, I have developed a few rules to cook by when it comes to combining pasta with fish and shellfish:
• The shape dictates the dish. Certain shapes go with certain kinds of sauces or ingredients. I know it’s a cliché, but linguine does go with clams. But it also goes with bottarga, and that is not something you see often. Tagliatelle is a delicate Emilian pasta made with eggs and flour, and it goes beautifully with delicately flavored scallops or crabmeat or lobster. You wouldn’t put rigatoni with garlic and oil. It just wouldn’t work. Rigatoni needs something that’s going to coat the pasta well and get inside of it.
•The general practice, or the one that was drummed into me by traditionally minded Italian cooks, is no cheese with fish. But I find that milder cheeses like ricotta, mozzarella, or mild feta can work very well in certain pasta preparations. I personally don’t use Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano in seafood and pasta preparations, as I think they just overwhelm anything they touch. When people ask for grated cheese for their pasta at Esca, our servers offer toasted seasoned bread crumbs instead.
•After I’ve cooked my pasta about 90 percent of the way through in boiling water, I invariably finish it in a sauté pan with a little bit of the pasta water and the sauce. It adds a little coating, a little starch to the dish.
•The way you sauce a pasta is very important. Molto taught me sparseness in terms of saucing. He told me that you sauce a pasta the way you dress a salad. You don’t overdress a salad, and you don’t drown your pasta in sauce. Because pasta dishes are by definition more about the pasta than anything else. The sauce is a condiment—it’s like the ketchup on a hamburger.
• I always serve clams, mussels, and lobster in the shell with pasta. The shell seals in the flavor. I know it can sometimes seem like a lot of unnecessary work to wrestle with shells, but in the end it’s all about maximizing flavor and deliciousness. And for that result, shells are the way to go.
•The choice of dried versus fresh pasta with seafood depends on how I’m using the seafood. If I’m using fresh pasta, I’ll take the shrimp out of the shell, because of the way fresh pasta lays on the plate. Conversely, with dried pasta, I’ll leave the shell on the shrimp, because the shell adds flavor and texture to the sauce.We use mostly fresh pastas made in-house at the restaurant, and I give you a couple of those recipes here. But if you have a fresh pasta shop near your house, buy theirs. Or just use a good dried pasta like Latini, Martelli, or DeCecco. Those brands have a coarser texture that holds the sauce better.
• When you’re cooking seafood to go with pasta, you want to retain the liquor, the liquid that’s in the shell, because that’s where a lot of the flavor is. That liquor is the key to the success of many pasta-seafood combinations. You wouldn’t throw out the pan juices when you cook a steak,would you? Of course not.
•With some of my pasta dishes, like Tagliatelle with Nantucket Bay Scallops (opposite), I just warm the scallops, because if you really cooked them they would shrink into little rubber balls.
•When I cook lobster and serve it with pasta, I want you to taste the lobster. Otherwise, why bother to use such an expensive ingredient? Lobster has a subtle, delicate taste that needs to be drawn out so it isn’t overwhelmed by the pasta or the sauce. Again, I always keep the lobster in the shell.
•Rock shrimp is made to order to be cooked with pasta. It’s a very forgiving protein—it’s almost impossible to overcook and rubberize. When you cook them, you always end up with meaty shrimp and tons of shrimp flavor.
•Although it’s not very popular to serve pasta with pieces of fish, I love it. When I was out on a boat in the Adriatic, that’s what I would cook up every night. In some ways it’s the most flavorful way to cook fish, plus it’s really easy to eat. If you decide to go for it and cook pasta and seafood this way, be forewarned that it may be a tough sell for your guests. It usually works best with stewlike preparations, so the fish breaks down and gets incredibly tender.
•There are two dishes in this chapter that I created thinking about how you could substitute fish in a classic meat preparation. Everyone loves the Spaghetti with Tuna Meatballs on page 80, and I dare even the most devoted carnivore to resist the charms of that dish. And the Rigatoni with Tuna Bolognese (page 79) is just something I came up with when I had some extra tuna scraps that I wanted to use. I don’t know that it’s better than the classic Bolognese made with veal and pork, but it’s certainly damn good in its own right.