Spaghetti with Almond Cream, Fresh Crab, Chilli and Marjoram
I've been pouring over the pages of Ben Tish's lovely new book Sicilia - it has a really good selection of pasta recipes - and a friend and I decided to give this one a go. We didn't have whole almonds so we substituted ground almonds which made the sauce a bit gritty so follow Ben's recipe and don't make the same mistake!
Ben writes: Nut-thickened sauces and ‘creams’ are very popular in parts of Sicily. Nuts are natural thickeners and packed with flavour.
I first came across a pasta dish similar to this when traveling through the Aeolian islands one summer. An idyllic beach side café had just a couple of pasta options and the one that took my fancy was a spaghetti with almond sauce served with tiny wild mussels that were an ocean in every bite. I think there may have been lemon too. It couldn’t have been more idyllic for the time and place. This is my version.
100g blanched almonds
300ml full-fat milk
400g dried spaghetti
extra virgin olive oil for cooking
2 fresh red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
50g brown crab meat
100g fresh white crab meat, picked over to remove any shell or cartilage
juice of 1 lemon
a handful of marjoram leaves
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the almonds and milk in a saucepan and set aside to soak for 30 minutes. Then bring to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. Pour into a blender and blitz to a smooth sauce consistency. Season and reserve.
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the packet instructions.
Meanwhile, add a lug of oil to a large saut. pan and gently heat, then add the chillies and fry lightly to soften. Now pour in the almond sauce and stir in the brown and white crab meat. Squeeze in some lemon juice and check the seasoning.
When the pasta is cooked, transfer it to the almond sauce using tongs. Drizzle in some olive oil and add a ladle of the pasta water.
Stir the pasta through with the tongs, ensuring the strands are all coated. If the sauce is too thick add more pasta water and continue to stir or toss through.
Transfer the pasta to warmed bowls (doing this with tongs gives a neat presentation) and sprinkle over the marjoram, then serve immediately.
What to drink: Given this is a Sicilian-inspired recipe it would seem perverse not to drink a Sicilian wine with it - I'd suggest a Carricante but most of Italy's dry whites like Falanghina or vermentino would work too. Or maybe, from up in the north, a Soave or Bianco di Custoza which have almondy notes of their own.
Sicilia by Ben Tish (Bloomsbury Publishing, £26) is out now. Photography by Kris Kirkham.
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