Stupendous Seafood Paccheri
I’ll come out and admit it. I’ve always been intimidated by seafood pastas and stews.
Okay, okay, I’ve made scampi. But the prospect of a bouillabaisse or a paella or a pasta with various sea creatures on it…well, it just seemed too hard. I can’t say exactly what made these dishes seem so unattainable, but I am pretty sure it had something to do with the challenge of obtaining three or four different fresh fish or shellfish on the same day in almost embarrassingly small amounts. Now, this may be a real problem for folks who live in areas lacking good grocery stores, but as a person who has access to the glorious seafood markets in and near Rockland, there’s just no excuse. So, recently, when Dan and I saw Lidia Bastianich making a mouthwatering seafood pasta on her show, we decided the time had come.
It was imperative we finally make the plunge. I decided to take on a pasta recipe that contained mussels, clams, scallops AND shrimp.
Right off, though, we cheated. Dan and I decided to omit the clams and double the mussels. The reason for this was two-fold. First, we have never cared much for clams. I realize this may get us kicked out of Maine, but we can’t deny that we are just mussels folks. Second, if you are shopping at a supermarket, mussels come handily in bags of 2lbs., so it can be a great way to simplify your ingredient list and avoid an extra stop at if your time is limited or seafood markets are closed.
If you are not near a great seafood outlet in a coastal area, the other thing we have realized is the usefulness of both frozen raw shrimp and frozen scallops. We have found that sometimes the frozen shrimp is the only practical way for us to shop ahead and plan, so that’s what we had on hand. The frozen scallops, likewise, have proven to be an affordable way for us to have scallops on hand days or weeks before we need them, when we are not in Rockland and have to make due in Virginia.
So on the day of my shopping trip, I only needed a standard bag of mussels from the fish market. Easy peasy.
What else is in this fabulous seafood pasta that bowled (no pun intended) us over? Lidia uses hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes with a few spices, and serves it over these marvelously large rigatoni-like noodles called Paccheri. I was able to find exactly the right noodles, which are fun because they look like calamari. If you can’t find them, however, you can substitute any other large rigatoni or, in fact, any noodle you want. I like the Paccheri Lidia chose because they hold the sauce really wonderfully.
What follows is a detailed description, and it sounds like a lot of work, but it is actually much faster and simpler than it first appears. Trust me!
Seafood Paccheri (with Alicia’s tweaks)
Adapted from Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy
½ teaspoon toasted saffron threads
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ pound of sea scallops
½ pound of medium shrimp
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled (or sliced if you fear chunks of garlic)
½ teaspoon peperoncino flakes (red pepper flakes)
2 – 28 ounce cans of San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand (Lidia only uses 3 cups, but we increased it quite a bit)
2 pounds of mussels, scrubbed, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon fresh, chopped Italian parsley
1 pound of paccheri, rigatoni or other large pasta noodle
Start by putting the saffron threads (which are expensive, but they last a long time and are worth it) into a couple of tablespoons of hot water to steep. I just use a custard dish for this.
Pour out that can of San Marzanos into a bowl PUT ON AN APRON IDIOT and crush them using your fingers. You want them broken up pretty well. San Marzanos are found in the gourmet section of your Italian/pasta aisle and they do run over $3 for a 28 oz. can. If you’re on a tight budget, substitute crushed or ground tomatoes, but you won’t get that nice, chunky consistency, plus the flavor will just not be as great. I actually found that I could get an enormous can of San Marzanos (I can’t remember the weight, but it was something like four times the amount in a 28 oz. can) for about $8, use part of it, and reserve the rest for a meal later in the week. It cost almost the same as just two 28 oz. cans and we had twice as much!
Set a big vat of water on the stove top and put a tablespoon of salt in there. Bring it to a boil while you proceed with the sauce.
Now, you have to make sure, at this point, that any frozen seafood is completely defrosted. Shell the shrimp and take the tails off. Rinse and pat dry. Your scallops should, likewise, be rinsed, patted, and cut into quarters (if large) or in half (if smaller). Basically, they should be a healthy bite size. If you are using little bay scallops, I’d say don’t cut them at all. Your mussels should be cleaned. For easy info on any cleaning you need to to for mussels or how to choose them, check out my post Flex Your Mussels. You want all of your seafood standing by. Once you get going with this recipe, it happens very fast. You might even want to set the table ahead of time!
Put some olive oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed pan on medium-high. I have a Calphalon pot that I love – it’s heavy and conducts heat really evenly. You want something that acts like a frying pan, but has sides to contain sauce, and you’re also going to need for it to have a lid. You don’t use the lid just yet, though. When the olive oil is sizzling lightly, turn the heat down to medium. Then toss in your garlic and the peperoncino flakes (I go heavier than a 1/2tsp. for more zip) and let the garlic become fragrant and golden. If it seems to be burning, turn down the heat. Garlic really burns SO quickly and you don’t want it scorched.
When the garlic is lovely and golden, put your scallops in the pan and sear them for a minute. Turn them over and sear the other side for another minute.
When the scallops have been seared, you are ready to put in your tomatoes and the 1/2 tsp. of salt. Lidia likes to use half the tomatoes I did, and she adds half a cup of water, instead, but we learned that we prefer more tomatoes and no water. Add the tomatoes carefully (again, I highly suggest an apron) and, if necessary, raise the heat slightly to get them simmering gently.
The tomatoes should bubble away lightly for 8 minutes. This is an excellent time to add your pasta to the boiling water you’ve started. They will finish cooking right when you’re finishing the rest of the dish. Whatever cooking time your pasta suggests, go with the “Al dente” time so that your pasta is not overcooked by the time it’s in the sauce.
After your 8 minutes have passed, get all your seafood at the ready! Add the mussels and/or clams and the scallops BUT NOT THE SHRIMP to the sauce, along with the saffron and its soaking water. Cover the pot immediately and shake it lightly to distribute the seafood in the sauce. Continue to cook the shellfish and scallops for 2 1/2 minutes, shaking again every 30 seconds or so. At the end of the cooking time, lift the lid. The shellfish should all be open! If they’re not, give them another 30 seconds. But we never found that necessary.
All that is left to do is to add the shrimp and the parsley (which is nice but not entirely necessary). Stir the shrimp gently into the sauce and raise the heat, if necessary, to get the pot back to a light boil, but then turn it down to maintain just a simmer. The shrimp should be cooked almost instantly – a nice, light pink.
Lidia drains her pasta in a utensil called a spider (a large spatula-like basket tool) and puts it right in the sauce. Alternately, you can put it in a colander to drain, but get it right back into the sauce before it sticks together! Toss the pasta to get all the yummy sauce distributed throughout, and then top the entire shebang with a delicious drizzle of olive oil.
You have done it. You have conquered the creatures of the sea and your insecurities on your stove top.
Serve up the pasta in lovely, wide pasta bowls and ENJOY! I like to offer it with a crisp, green salad.
We were easily able, by the way, to cut this recipe in half for two people and still had one bowl of pasta left to reheat for a lunch the next day. Delicious! We got rave reviews when we made this for dinner guests and loved this meal as much the third time as we had the first.
In fact…I think I may make it again this week. It’s so easy. That’s NOTHIN’.