“You cooked all day.”
This wasn’t exactly accurate but my husband wasn’t far from the truth either. When he left for his two-hour bike ride Saturday morning I was in the kitchen kneading dough for pasta…again (I’m obsessed with fresh pasta these days). He returned to find me still in the kitchen, this time rolling the dough and laying the pieces on the counter to dry. What he missed in between was me sneaking off to West Elm in Palo Alto to pick up more bowls and plates for props (the dough had to rest and I had to do something!). He ran some errands in the afternoon and again, he returned only to find me in the same spot–cutting the dough, shelling crab and whatever else needed to be done to prepare the dish I had in mind.
His statement prompted me to wonder if I do spend that much time in the kitchen and I have to say that the answer may be yes. I have a job outside of the home and we have a fairly active life so on days that we have no commitments I do tend to plant myself in the kitchen. Cooking is a stress reliever for me and it brings me great joy to see my husband dig into his plate and mumble, “Mmm, good.” Of course, there are days when I’d rather dine out but mostly, I do like preparing our food at home.
I had an idea for my next pasta dish–it had been brewing in my head for over a week: Pasta with Dungeness Crab. I bought two crabs the week before (already cooked because I can’t bear to put the live crabs in boiling water myself) but they ended up being served as a first course with another pasta dish at an impromptu dinner with friends.
This weekend I was finally able to see my idea come to life and my husband and I were quite pleased with the results. Homemade spaghetti, while not absolutely necessary here, paired very well with the fresh, sweet, milky Dungeness crab meat. The pasta and the crab both have a mellow flavor so I added fried Meyer lemon slices and fried capers to punch things up a bit. The individual components don’t get lost in the dish but they all complement each other nicely. I wondered at first if the lemons and capers would overpower the crab but they didn’t. In fact, they helped to bring out the best of the dish. I borrowed the idea of frying lemons from my local Italian restaurant. Carpaccio serves its fried calamari with fried lemon slices and while they’re most likely served as a filler and/or garnish, I happen to like them very much. The thinly-sliced Meyer lemons are sweeter than regular lemons and there is no bitterness from the skin or pith. As for the capers, I first tasted them fried as a garnish in a salad 20 years ago and I’ve never forgotten their nutty quality.
So yes, I spent quite a lot of time in the kitchen preparing this dinner and while I enjoyed the process you don’t have to labor like I did. Feel free to use dried spaghetti here–it shouldn’t compromise the dish. You also don’t have to spend 45 minutes shelling two crabs like I did (you won’t need two for this recipe either)–go right ahead and buy fresh crab meat at the market. With these shortcuts dinner will be ready in mere minutes. Just don’t forget to add the fried lemon slices and fried capers; your taste buds will thank you…then you’ll thank me!
My friend, Rose, of Magpie’s Recipes has also recently prepared a crab dish. Dungeness crabs are plentiful in our neck of the woods right now and it’s always fun to see all the different preparations. Rose prepared her mother’s Kerala Coconut Crab. Served with rice, her dish, I can only imagine, must be aromatic from all the spices she used. Allow Rose to transport you to a bustling town in South India just for a moment as she describes a day when the fishmonger comes to visit. You’ll be happy you did.
- 1 pound spaghetti (either fresh or dry would be okay; my fresh pasta yielded about 14.5 ounces)
- About ½ pound (8 ounces) lump crab meat
- 6 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
- Dried chili flakes, to taste
- ½ cup white wine
- 1 Meyer lemon, sliced thinly (half will be fried (seeds removed), the other half for garnish)
- Another ½ lemon for its zest and juice
- About 2 tablespoons capers, drained and mashed a little
- salt and pepper, to taste
- ¼ – ⅓ cup fruity olive oil for the sauce plus more for frying the lemons and capers.
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley plus more for garnish
- **Breading for the lemon slices: Combine all ingredients below in a small bowl***
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 tablespoon bread crumbs
- ½ tbsp kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- To prepare fresh pasta, please click here for the recipe. Feel free to use dried spaghetti if you wish. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
- To prepare the capers: First drain the capers and press with a spoon just once or twice to expel more of the liquid. Heat a bit of olive oil in a small pan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the capers. They will sizzle a lot but watch them carefully as they will cook very fast, under a minute. Any longer and they will get too brown. Remove from the pan and transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Set aside.
- To Prepare the fried lemon slices: Using the same pan and oil that you fried the capers in, dredge the slices in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess, then add them to the pan. Fry on each side over medium heat for 1-2 minutes on each side. You’ll lose some of the lemon pulps in the pan causing some sizzling but it’s okay. Drain the lemons on the same plate lined with a paper towel. They should crisp up as they cool. Set aside.
- To prepare the sauce (this would be a good time to put the pasta in the pot to cook): Heat the ¼ – ⅓ cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chili flakes and garlic and cook for only a minute. Be careful not to let the garlic get too brown; turn your heat down if you see that they’re cooking too fast. Add the wine and turn the heat up a bit. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add 2 tbsp of chopped parsley.
- Right before you add the pasta to the sauce, add the most of the crab, leaving some behind to top the plates. Stir them around the sauce for just a minute–the meat is already cooked so you just want it to get to roughly the same temperature as the sauce. Add the cooked pasta and toss well to combine. Arrange on plates and top with the remaining crab, parsley, the fried lemon slices, fried capers and more lemon slices if you wish.
- This will serve 3-4 as a first course and 2-3 as an main dish.