Present conditions notwithstanding, spring’s arrival is certainly welcomed in these parts, for it means the return of flowers and green to our drab landscape. It also means that fresh produce and vegetables begin to make their return to our markets, starting with asparagus and a variety of mushrooms. One yearly event that may escape your notice is the arrival of soft shell crabs. A crab’s shell does not grow, so, every year the crabs shed their old shells in favor of this year’s newer, more spacious models. The new shell is relatively soft for a few weeks, setting off a rush to harvest as many crabs as possible before they toughen up for another 11 months.
Lucky for me, I’ve a great fishmonger that provides many of the fruits of spring. Located not far from my home in Chicago, The Fishguy Market & Wellfleet is my go-to place for seafood and, in the spring, for items like morel mushrooms, asparagus, and ramps. Today’s post may have been written last spring and held until now but its morels and soft shell crabs, as well as the duck eggs used to make the trenette pasta, all came from the Fishguy. They offer much more than I could possibly mention here and my advice for those living in Chicagoland would be to join the mailing list. You may find it worth your while to stop there some day but be forewarned. If you’re going for a sale on clams or soft shell crabs, get there early. They are the favorites of some selfish blogger who, by his own admission, cannot resist buying them.
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I first enjoyed soft shell crabs some 20+ years ago while working in The Loop. A few of us went to lunch at a nearby hotel and soft shell crabs were on the menu. I decided to give them a try and it was love at first bite. Lightly floured and deep-fried, the crabs were served open-face on a long roll reminiscent of New Orleans’ oyster poor boy sandwiches. Since that fateful day, I order or prepare them whenever I see them. (By the way, a recipe for soft shell crab po’ boys is in the works, as well as a yellow curry.)
It is best to purchase the crabs at their peak of freshness, meaning they should be alive if possible. It also means that you’ll have to kill and clean them before using them in your dish. Well, I love the crabs but let my fishmonger handle the dirty work. As for the morels, a simple brushing should remove any dirt. If need be, you can give them a quick rinse — do not soak — but be sure to pat them dry before using. (See Notes.)
Last week, a number of you inquired about the trenette used in these recipes. Cut a little thinner than linguine, trenette most closely resembles that which Mom cut by hand when I was a boy. Luckily, I found an attachment for my pasta machine that recreates this nostalgia-packed pasta. If you go looking for the pasta, be sure to buy “TRENETTE” and not “TRENNETTE“. The first is Mom’s pasta. The latter is another pasta that is much like penne, though a little more narrow. Regardless, don’t be alarmed if you cannot find trenette. Look for a dried pasta called linguine fini. It will make a fine substitute.
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This is it, my last post for the next few weeks. My nephew and I will be traveling to Italy to visit Dad’s family in The Republic of San Marino and then it’s off to see Rome. Later, while he boards a plane to return home, I’ll board a train to Corinaldo, the wellspring of the Bartolini Clan. See you on the other side.
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Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morel Mushrooms Recipe
- 1 lb (450 g) trenette – linguine may be substituted
- 3 or 4 soft shell crabs, cleaned
- 2 tbsp buter
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed
- red pepper flakes, to taste
- 2 to 4 oz (56 to 112 g) morel mushrooms (see Notes)
- salt and pepper to taste
- reserved pasta water
- fresh parsley, for garnish
- Heat oil and butter in a large frypan with a lid over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until browned but not burnt. Remove and discard the garlic, leaving the now-flavored oil in the pan.
- Add the red pepper flakes and crabs to the pan, lower the heat to med-low, and cover the pan.
- Continue to gently sauté the crabs for about 15 minutes, turning them over mid-way through. The crabs will turn crimson when cooked.
- Meanwhile, bring to the boil a large pot of salted water. Add the trenette and cook until it is about 2 minutes shy of being al dente. (If using packaged pasta, refer to the package instructions.) Time the components so that the crabs and pasta are ready at the same time. Now is the time to reserve a cup of the pasta water.
- Turn the heat to med-high before placing the morels into the pan with the crabs.
- Drain the trenette and dump the pasta into the pan. Stir/toss to combine. If too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.
- Continue to sauté until the pasta is cooked to your satisfaction.
- Remove to a serving platter and garnish with freshly chopped parsley before bringing to the table.
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As this blog’s good friend (and honorary Bartolini) Stefan proved, mushrooms do not absorb enough water to affect taste when cleaned by rinsing with water. Morels have a pitted surface to which water may cling. If you do rinse them, take extra time to dry them as much as possible. Failure to do so may result in the morels being steamed in the frypan instead of being sautéed.
Timing is important with this dish but not as critical as it was in last week’s mollusks dish. Still, you don’t want the pasta or crabs to sit waiting for the other component to complete. Fresh pasta will cook in about 3 minutes, so, drain and add it to the pan after it has cooked for about 2 minutes. Follow the package instructions for dried pasta, draining it about 2 minutes before the stated time for al dente.
Whenever you’re cooking pasta, always reserve some of the pasta water, removing it just before you drain the pasta. Should the finished dish be too dry, a little of this water will work wonders. Not only will it moisten the dish but its starch content will help to thicken whatever sauce is being used to dress the pasta.
If you cannot source fresh morels, dried may be substituted. Soak them in hot, NOT boiling, water for at least 30 minutes or overnight. Once hydrated, strain the mushrooms and use in today’s recipe but reserve the soaking liquid. Filter the liquid to remove any grit and freeze, to be used to flavor your next mushroom risotto.
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My comments regarding the Fishguy Market were my own. I requested and was granted permission to mention the market with no compensation trading hands for my doing so.
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It’s déjà vu all over again …
Since we’re talking about utilizing spring’s harvest, why not continue the theme with today’s look back? Hard to believe it was 3 years ago that I posted a recipe for ramps ravioli dressed with a morel mushroom sauce. WIth its ingredients soon coming into season, now’s the time to consider preparing the recipe. You can see how it’s prepared by clicking HERE.
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Coming soon to a monitor near you …
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