Seafood pasta is a many wondrous thing – it’s almost a compulsion of mine to order spaghetti alle vongole (Clam pasta) at every restaurant that I think will serve a good one. When I’m in Italy it’s almost all I order and I never get sick of it. However, I also never really cook clams at home. At least in the UK it’s a bit difficult to source good ones. You see the beauty of that kind of seafood pasta is that the clams are super fresh and the juices that come out of them create a luscious sweet sauce. Supermarket clams just won’t do that and often become rubbery and I find it quite difficult to find the time to go a fishmonger or to Billingsgate fish market (although that’s a lovely thing to do). However, that doesn’t mean my desire for seafood pasta is in anyway lessened and so when I recently had the pleasure of stumbling across the Venetian custom of adding cinnamon to seafood I had to try it. Yes you read me correctly, cinnamon in seafood pasta. Trust me, it’s not just delicious but the spices mean you can make a few compromises on the seafood itself.
Before I continue to extol the virtues of spices in seafood pasta, I just wanted to do a quick apology for not posting for so long. Unfortunately recently G got ill and then happily recovered. During that time I was a bit out of it and sadly blogging fell to the bottom of the heap. Then we went to New York to visit family – a number of great meals including one unbelievable sushi meal at Sushi Nakazawa – but not much time for blogging. I’m back now and raring to go and hopefully you’ll see a lot more posts in the next few weeks! Anyway, back to seafood pasta.
The Venetian’s use of spice dates back to their period of trade with the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Trade with the “East” combined with the rich bounties of the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas surrounding Venice led to an almost unique approach to seafood. They add a mix of spices including cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, coriander seeds, ginger and turmeric to many seafood dishes, including seafood pasta and seafood risotto. For this particular dish I’ve only included the cinnamon and a smidgen of ground cloves with a touch of cayenne pepper. I wanted the richness of the warming spices without the other top notes which I found clashed with the scallops and rich onions. However, you should experiment for yourself and with a different mix in your seafood pasta (like mussels or more prawns) I could see a wider range of spices working – let me know your favourites, I’d love to hear.
I’m normally a firm proponent of the quality of the seafood (or any ingredient in fact) being paramount. I’d normally go so far as to say that the quality of the seafood is a better indicator of how nice the final dish will taste than the person cooking it. However, when it comes to this dish, the spices make that less true than usual. This is great news when it comes to scallops in particular. I would normally run a mile from what’s called wet scallops as they never brown properly and can taste a little waterlogged when you try to sear them (it’s to do with how they’re stored). However, in a dish like this they’ll work just fine in a pinch and they can be a lot cheaper.
Here in the UK, we’re blessed with the humble Manx Queenie Scallop. They’re a small variety of scallop which is truly delicious and pretty cheap in comparison to king scallops. They cost about £8 for a pound of scallops which will make enough seafood pasta for 5-6 people. You can order them online and I love them. However I’d normally end up buying the packets of little raw scallops from the supermarket and have found they work really well for this. Don’t serve them seared to anyone – it’s not worth it – but in a dish like this they work really well.
I’ve tried this dish in a couple of different ways. I’ve tried adding molluscs like cockles, clams and mussels and they were delicious but they really need to be fresh and are hard to source. As such, this recipe below with scallops and prawns is my favourite way to cook seafood pasta midweek – I hope you like it as much as I do. It works really well with dried pasta but it’s at it’s absolute best with fresh pasta – which in classic TimedEating fashion you can and should make a bit in advance. My favourite recipe for thre pasta dough is here.
Seafood pasta with scallops, prawns and a hint of cinnamon
Ingredients: (serves 3)
- 150g small scallops (about 15)
- 150g peeled prawns
- 1 large garlic clove very finely sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- 2 large banana shallots finely diced
- 150ml white wine
- 2 tablespoons of finely chopped tarragon (about half a bunch)
- 300g fresh or dried pasta
- The end of a lemon
- Add a glug of olive oil to a large frying pan over a medium heat and add the onions, season well with salt and a decent amount of black pepper (about five full twists of a pepper grinder). The spice of the pepper should come through in the final dish. Cook for about ten minutes whilst stirring until soft and translucent.
- Add one teaspoon of the cinnamon and the cloves and cook for a further couple of minutes. Add the white wine and cook until completely evaporated. Remove from the frying pan and reserve.
- Cook the pasta in salted water and strain, reserve some of the cooking water.
- Add a small amount of olive oil to the frying pan and place over a high heat. You will now need to work quickly. Add the scallops, prawns, remaining and garlic and toss for 30 seconds. Add the remaining cinnamon, stir and cook for another 30 seconds (they don’t take long).
- Add the reserved pasta, the reserved onions, a splash of the cooking water and a small splash of olive oil. Cook together for 30 seconds tossing constantly and then add the tarragon. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and a few drops of lemon juice. Serve immediately.