Sometimes the best recipes aren’t timeless family heirlooms, but the ones you invent yourself… or in my case, the one’s my husband invents.
This pasta recipe is my absolute favourite dish of all time. It’s a fixture in my household. Giulio makes it at least once a week with fresh scampi. Although we usually go to Harbour House Crabs for hard shell crab varieties, we get the fresh scampi from the local fishmonger’s down the street. When we’re in a fix though and craving it, we make do with frozen scampi and it’s just as delicious.
The recipe has been through more revision than I care to count. Giulio has been perfecting it since I met him and as ‘official scampi pasta taster’, I can assure you that it just keeps getting better. If you’re looking for a quick and easy pasta dish that will blow the socks off whoever you invite to dinner, this is it.
Confession time: the latest update to this recipe includes Thai fish sauce. Giulio is experimenting with fusion cooking and it’s, frankly, a disaster. So in the spirit of Window updates, I’m sharing the recipe that came before the fish sauce and I truly believe it’s better than the current edition.
It’s important to note that scampi aren’t prawns or shrimp. They’re the sort of creature I imagine a lobster and prawn union would give birth to, but you probably just call them langoustine or slipper lobsters. This pasta dish isn’t as delicious with prawns, but if you can’t find scampi, you can definitely use prawns or you can try it with crayfish or crab.
Peeling and cleaning 300g scampi pretty much sucks, but is unfortunately unavoidable. Snap off the heads and put them to one side, then peel off the shell to expose the tail meat and clean. The ‘arms’ or claws can be left intact and eaten like you’d eat lobster or crab claws. This is your first and worst job. Once you’ve done that, you’re home free.
The secret to any Italian pasta dish is to build up the flavour in layers.
Start by heating a splash or two of olive oil in the pan. Add your chilli, parsley and garlic. Cook for a few minutes to infuse the oil before adding your white wine. You have to wait a few minutes for the wine to evaporate over a pretty high heat. Then add your fish stock. It’s important to use concentrated fish stock because it packs all the fishy flavour in a small dose. Using liquid stock is just not an option. You’d end up with a soup and not a pasta sauce.
Add your tomato concentrate and the scampi heads your saved from your peeling nightmare next. Lower the heat right down to a simmer and wait 10-15 minutes, stirring every so often, to get all the flavour out of those scampi heads. If you’re worried the sauce is drying out too much, add half a glass of water.
While that’s simmering, prepare your pasta. Italians are strict when it comes to pasta. I have no idea why it has to be spaghetti (and a certain brand of spaghetti to boot) but Giulio refuses to even touch any other type of pasta. So if you’re keen to recreate the ‘real Italian experience’ pick up a packet of Barilla spaghetti… or do what I do when Giulio’s not looking and just chuck in whatever you have on hand! Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions and achieve heavenly ‘al dente’.
With two pots on the stove, turn your attention back to your sauce and add your scampi. Give everything a good stir and season, then let it simmer away for 5-10 minutes. Toss your cooked and drained pasta in the pan with the sauce and serve without cheese. Italians go berserk when you put cheese on seafood pasta!
It might not be the prettiest or daintiest dish, but Italian rustic cooking rarely is. Scampi meat is really sweet and tender and actually packs quite a flavour punch. We’ve made this recipe with lobster and it’s just not the same. Lobster can’t stand up to the rich tomato and chilli sauce like scampi.
Things get a little messy when eating this, especially if you decide to crack open the claws to get at the delicious meat within, so I suggest having a few bowls of water and lemon and some napkins handy, so you guests don’t get the sauce all over themselves. A bib wouldn’t hurt either!