Spaghetti alla Chitarra with Softshell Crab
Spicy garlic, Calabrese chili pepper and tomato ragu
Recipe provided Chef Luke Palladino
“Molleche” are the prized soft shell crabs of Venice. They are about a quarter of the size
of ours in America. When soft shells are in season we serve this pasta in my restaurants and it is a big hit. The trick with soft shells is to
snag them out of the water just after they have molted, shedding their old skin. In the
Venetian lagoon, the old fisherman have traps suspended in the water so that they may
monitor daily the molting of the crabs, retrieving them at the right time, when they are
soft all over. Inevitably, even in Venice, fisherman can’t check every one of the crabs, so,
some of them are not as tender as others, and these are called “leather backs”. At my restaurants we pull the leathery backs off of the crabs and chop them up for this
ragu…So put aside the tougher skinned crabs when you purchase them and make this
delicious ragu with them. I know, it seems sacrilegious, but the results are the best “lazy
man’s”, no fuss and pick crab sauce you will ever have. Trust me.
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
Calabrese chilies, chopped, to taste
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
6-8 Soft shell crabs, leathery back removed, roughly chopped
½ cup Shellfish Stock
1 cup pureed tomato sauce
1 tomato, diced
10 ounces Spaghetti, or any other long pasta
¼ cup basil leaves, whole
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt.
2. To remove the backs of the crabs, first snip behind the eyes removing them completely, then flip the crab over and snip off the white “flap” that either looks like the “Washington Monument” (a male crab) or a round looking “flap” that resembles the dome of the “White House” (a female crab). Now to remove the top shell of the crab, pull on the 2 longest pointed ends of it, it will come off easily. On the body of the crab that was covered by the top shell, on both sides of the crab you will see the lungs, which look like fuzzy little fingers, off-white in color. Snip them off too where they attach t the body of the crab, removing them completely.
3. Roughly chop the crabs into pieces. In a 12inch sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, chilies, parsley and a few torn basil leaves. Fry them in the oil until the garlic turns a light golden color. Add the chopped crabs to the pan and continue to fry them at high heat for about a minute, season them and pour in the fish brodo, reduce the fish brodo by half and add the pureed tomato sauce.
4. Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook it according to the manufacturer’s direction, about 5-6 minutes. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Add the diced tomatoes and tear the remaining basil leaves into the pan as well. Cook the pasta over medium heat until the sauce is well coated, but not liquidy, about 1 minute. Using a pair of kitchen tongs or two large spoons place the pasta onto warm plates or bowl and serve immediately.