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Some Italian Shellfish Dishes

By: Mike Kiely BA (hons) - Updated: 21 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Sardinia Lobster Puglia Mussels Baby

Stroll around the old town of Alghero' on the north-west coast of Sardinia, and it's difficult to miss its Catalan heritage, visible in the colours of the small plaques that decorate the houses on the narrow streets. It doesn't take long to notice another passion: lobster. Whether grilled or baked, used in salads or as part of a sauce to complement the local equivalent of maccheroni, it is clear that the crustacean is the undisputed king of cucina Algherese.

Lobster With Salad of White Onions and Tomatoes

The signature preparation involves a simple salad of white onions and tomatoes garnished with rocket which accompanies lobster freshly boiled and then left to cool. It is advisable to sample this dish prepared by a professional because too many amateurs make the fatal error of hesitating before plunging a live lobster into the boiling water. Unsurprisingly, the lobster needs no second invitation to clamp onto the sides of the sauce pan with its claws in order to avoid the bubbling waters below - with disastrous consequences for all concerned.

Mussels in White Wine and Vegetables

A more manageable little chap is the mussel, which is treated in much the same way in Italy as elsewhere in the world, each region, unsurprisingly, adding its own twist to instill a little local character. For the purposes of this recipe for four people, Puglia is the destination of choice, in the south-east of the peninsula.

  • The first step is to finely chop a medium-size onion, some celery and a carrot
  • Sauté some vegetables gently in some extra virgin olive oil, then add two cloves of garlic finely chopped, then 1.5 kilograms of mussels that have been washed thoroughly under running cold water and left to drain
  • Put the lid on the pan, turn up the heat and leave for one minute
  • Take the lid off, pour 200 millilitres of a good quality white wine over the mussels, then put the lid on for another minute
  • Then add to the pan 200 grams of fresh tomatoes peeled, deseeded and the flesh finely diced, together with a whole fresh chilli
  • Return the lid to the pan for another three minutes, then lift off, remove the chilli and discard, and pour the mussels and the liquor into a large bowl, ensuring any that have not opened are removed and thrown into the bin
Garnish with flat leaf parsley and freshly ground black pepper and serve with some toasted farmhouse bread topped with a drizzle of olive oil.

Alle Vongole Sauce

Baby clams are the star of the popular alle vongole pasta sauce usually served with spaghetti, although spaghettini or linguine serve equally well as a foil. The clams can be found in jars and tins but it is best to opt for the fresh variety if available, not least for the pleasing tinkling of the shells as fork and spoon dig in between the strings of pasta.

For four people:

  • Sauté a finely sliced clove of garlic in extra virgin olive oil, then add 250 millilitres of fish stock, turn the heat up to boil the stock and add one kilogram of thoroughly washed clams and place the lid on the pan
  • After one minute, add 250 millilitres of white wine together with a finely chopped deseeded fresh chilli
  • Put the lid back on and steam the clams for a further three minutes
  • Take off the lid, discard any clams that have not opened, then pour them together with the stock and wine liquid into freshly drained pasta, tossing all the ingredients together with a drop or two of olive oil to prevent the pasta sticking

Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with flat-leaf parsley.

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