Penne with Crab Meat

In Italy, its difficult to get precooked crab meat, so for a recipe like this, we boil the crabs ourselves in vegetable broth and tomatoes, then remove the meat and add it to the tomato sauce. This makes a tastier sauce, but the procedure is such a headache, I suggest you start off with cooked jumbo lump or backfin crab meat.

(serves 4 as an appetizer)

  • 3 quarts water
  • 1 ½ teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 ½ tablespoons salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 ¼ cups crushed canned tomatoes
  • ½ pound penne pasta
  • 2 ½ cups cooked jumbo lump or backfin crab meat, picked over to remove cartilage
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

In a large pot, bring the water to a boil and add the 1 ½ tablespoons of salt and the penne.

Place the olive oil, garlic, thyme and red pepper flakes in a medium saucepan and sauté over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, salt and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the crab and cook another 5 minutes. When the penne is very al dente, drain the and add it to the sauce. Cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the black pepper and serve.

Perfect Pasta

I remember hearing with disbelief that Americans tested spaghetti by throwing a strand against the wall; it was ready to eat if it stuck and didnt slip. Id like to believe that story was apocryphal, but just in case, a few words about cooking and choosing pasta.

First of all, the pasta is the basis for your dish and is just as important as the sauce. It must be cooked in the right amount of water, with the right amount of salt, for the right among of time. I suggest 3 quarts water and 1 ½ tablespoons of salt for every ½ pound of pasta. (The salt will vary depending on the saltiness of the sauce.) Some insist that the salt be added before the water boils. Others, only after. The important thing is to remember the salt- preferably kosher- and to taste the pasta for doneness. That is the only failproof test. Pasta should be cooked al dente, so that it is still resilient when you bite it.

The other important thing about pasta is that certain shapes go better with certain sauces. A safe rule is, the thinner to the pasta, the lighter the sauce. A heavy cheese sauce on capellini will result in a blob; olive oil an garlic on bucatini will be lost. Rotelle are good for catching tomato sauce, as are conchiglie. Use short pastas with chunky sauces; longer strands for saucier sauces.