Viareggio during the Spring is a true love affair. The shops along the promenade have sold all the Winter coats and heavy shirts and now show off with lighter pastel color Summer clothes. Pasticcerie, bakeries and coffee shops finally keep their doors open, a clear sign that the weather is getting warmer. The grey color of the Winter slowly fades away, revealing the clearest blue skies and long sunny days. It is the perfect time of the year for us, to finally own the beach, kick off the shoes and take long walks along the shore, barefoot in the sand, testing the temperature of the water. No umbrellas, no beach chairs or sunbathers. Just the voice of the sea and the screaming of the seagulls. I enjoy these moments of solitude knowing that soon hordes of tourists will take over the entire coast. I love Spring more than any other Season and not just for its visual beauty, there’s also an emotional aspect; the awakening and rejuvenation of my entire body. I am known as the Queen of Chaos for my hyperactivity. Like an octopus, I am tentacular. I start a million projects all at once and luckily… I finish them all. Spring has the power of increasing this quality, or defect, of mine. The market is just a stone’s throw from the beach and normally, after a long walk near the water, my appetite wakes up. Born in February I am a natural born Pisces but I am not particularly in love with fish. I prefer crustaceans and mollusks. While approaching the market, my memory goes to when Fedora, the lady of the shells, had her fish shack right on the corner entrance. A big old lady with white curly hair and a never ending series of bright colorful plastic aprons. One for each day of the week. She was the specialist, the only one who sold any type of bivalve in the area: oysters, big warty venus clams (known by us by sea truffles), the shiniest and largest date mussels, cockles, smooth venus clams with their bright red shells and foot, scallops, multicolored tellins, the biggest and plumpest blue mussels, and then clams, razor clams, sea snails. Just name it, if it was a mollusk or even a distant relative of a mollusk, she had it. Peeking inside the shack you could see a number of blue basins full of marine water and bivalves. Fedora was the main attraction at the market. Growing up my father would take us to Liguria every Sunday.
Below I am sharing a very special recipe for the Spaghetti allo Scoglio. Maybe more labor intensive than others but worth it. And I am sure, once you have tasted it, you will email me back.
SPAGHETTI ALLO SCOGLIO
For 4 people
2 lbs large blue mussels, scrubbed, debearded and rinsed with cold water
2 lbs warty venus clams, scrubbed
1 lb clams, scrubbed
1 1/2 cups of dry white wine
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
Red chile pepper flakes to taste
1 tsp freshly zested lemon peel
5 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 lb thick spaghetti di Gragnano (I love Pasta di Martino)
Freshly minced flat Italian parsley
sea salt, optional
First thing first, place both clams in two different bowls with lightly salted cold water to purge them of grit and sand for about 20 minutes to 1 hour. Rinse them off and scrub well. Rinse again. Discard clams with cracked shells.
Place blue mussels in one skillet and clams and warty venus clams in a different one. Pour ½ cup of wine to each skillet, cover with a lid and steam until they open. Remove some blue mussels and clams from their shells and keep some in the shell for garnish. Filter both liquids through a fine sieve and blend them in one pourable container.
Bring ½ quart of water to a boil
In a very large skillet, place minced garlic, chile pepper flakes and extra virgin olive oil and combine well. Start cooking that blend on a very low heat and when garlic starts sizzling, add ½ cup wine and let it evaporate. Garlic should not change color or the flavor of the sauce will be strong and bitter.
Pour in about 1/2 cup of clam/mussel juice and immediately add your raw spaghetti. Using tongs, slowly move the spaghetti until they get pliable. Add more clam/mussel juice when needed. Your goal is to cook the spaghetti using just the mollusk’s juice and very little hot water. It is like making risotto, but with pasta instead.
Keep mixing the spaghetti and add a little juice at a time. Add lemon zest. Test for doneness.
When pasta is al dente, stir in all the mollusks, with and without shells. Mix well. Normally salt is not needed because the juice is very flavorful. Your call.
Keep mixing adding a touch of juice or hot water until nice and creamy. Dust with parsley and combine. Serve hot