serves: 6 servings
On my recent visits to Abruzzo, I have been impressed as never before by the region's Adriatic coast, with its picturesque trabocchi, the little fishing shacks that hover over the water at the end of long wooden piers, and by the fresh coastal cuisine we enjoyed, meal after meal. Here's a recipe inspired by the delightful lunches of that visit, which we sometimes ate in view of the trabocchi, where the smoke rising from the ends of the piers told me the fishermen were cooking lunch, too. It is just the kind of fresh-from-the-sea dish they make, lots of shellfish quickly cooked in garlicky tomato sauce, then tossed with a pasta that traps the nuggets of fish and sauce in its hollows. My choice are the fat tubes called paccheri, a sort of giant rigatoni. In my opinion, there is no greater gustatory experience than the marvelous squirting that fills your mouth when you bite into paccheri full of sauce and juicy seafood. This pasta di trabocchi also has the distinctly Abruzzese touch of saffron (picked in the high plains of Navelli) to add complexity and depth to the sauce. And for me, saffron has a magical effect on the palate, creating the illusion of distant, mystic places. It's a fitting flavor in a dish of the sea, and a symbol for those that travel the sea, the mariners of the Abruzzo coast.
½ teaspoon toasted saffron threads
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ pound sea scallops
½ pound medium shrimp
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
½ teaspoon peperoncino
3 cups San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
1 pound littleneck clams, scrubbed, rinsed, and drained
1 pound mussels, scrubbed, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, freshly chopped
1 pound rigatoni
Put the toasted saffron threads in a small cup with 2 tablespoons of hot water, and let them steep. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, at least 6 quarts with 1 tablespoon of salt, for the pasta.
Prepare the seafood: Cut the sea scallops in quarters. Remove the shells from the shrimp (leaving the tails if you like), and the small digestive vein along the back, then rinse and pat them dry.
Pour 3 tablespoons of the olive oil into the big skillet, toss in the crushed garlic and peperoncino, and cook over medium-high heat until the garlic is fragrant and lightly colored. Scatter the cut scallops in the pan so the pieces are all separated, let them sizzle and sear for a minute, then stir and turn them over. Cook another minute or so, only until the flesh is opaque and remove with a slotted spoon. Immediately pour in the crushed tomatoes (and 1/2 cup water sloshed in the tomato container to rinse). Raise the heat to high, stir in the salt, and bring the tomato sauce to a boil. Adjust the heat to keep it bubbling steadily (but not spattering) for 8 minutes, to develop flavor and reduce slightly.
For cooking and finishing the pasta: Meanwhile, start cooking your pasta at approximately the same time the tomato sauce starts to bubble-from that moment, the sauce will take about 12 minutes to finish, and rigatoni (or other pasta) may need a few minutes more or less. As a guideline for coordinating your cooking, plan to boil any pasta for 2 minutes less than the package suggests.
When the tomato sauce has bubbled for 8 minutes, drop in the clams, the reserved scallops, mussels, and the saffron and soaking water; stir quickly to distribute the shellfish in the sauce, and cover the pan. Raise the heat to high, and cook, shaking the covered pan vigorously (and holding the cover on) every 1/2 minute or so. Cook 2 1/2 minutes, or just until the shells have opened. Toss the shrimp into the pan, and stir them into the sauce. Let it come back to a boil, then turn down the heat so the sauce is barely simmering.
As soon as the rigatoni are cooked al dente, scoop them from the pot with a spider, drain briefly, and drop them into the pan of barely simmering sauce. Toss and tumble the pasta, shellfish, and sauce over and over, coating and filling the rigatoni hollows. Drizzle another couple of tablespoons of olive oil all over the dish, and immediately serve up portions in warm bowls.