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The world of pasta shapes is rich and complex, nowhere more so than in and around Naples. This sapid, autumnal dish uses calamarata, sometimes also called calamari, ring shapes that are wider and larger than rigatoni and shorter than paccheri. They derive their name from their classic pairing with calamari (squid) in a seafood and tomato dish that is also known, confusingly, as calamarata.
Here, Gennaro Russo, executive chef of Le Sirenuse’s romantic La Sponda restaurant, uses them instead in a mare e monti recipe – the Italian name for dishes in which the sea meets the mountains. A perfect meld of autumn umami flavours, it’s one of those simple dishes that, with a little care at the serving stage, is sure to impress dinner guests. Good, fresh ingredients and top quality pasta (preferably from Gragnano) are the key to success.
to serve 4
400g (14oz) calamarata pasta (mezzi paccheri would also work)
500g (18oz) porcini mushrooms
1kg (35oz) fresh Mediterranean scampi
4 cloves of garlic
A few sage leaves
Baby basil to garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
First, the prep. Resist the temptation to wash the funghi porcini or porcini mushrooms, as they don’t stand up well to being scrubbed in water. Simply slice off the base where it was attached to the soil, and brush the rest of the dirt and leaf matter off as best you can (if you’re a kitchen completist, you can invest in a special mushroom brush). Then slice the mushroom caps and stalks the way you would like them to appear in the finished pasta dish. Keep aside one of the best small mushrooms and slice it very thinly lengthways to garnish the pasta at the end.
Scampi can seem puzzling beasts at first, but the ‘meat’ is all in the carapace or tail section. Turn them over to expose the ‘belly’ of the tail, make an incision with a sharp knife along this from neck to tail (some prefer to make two cuts, one near each side wall), and gently prise out the white ‘meat’ with a knife or one finger.
Time the pasta preparation according to the cooking time on the packet, bearing in mind that the mushrooms and scampi will take around twenty minutes. Always use abundant water, and toss in the pasta when it’s boiling vigorously, stirring every now and then with a wooden spoon to prevent it sticking. Before you drain the pasta, reserve a cup of the cooking water.
Now, when you’re ready to cook the mushrooms, pour a small slug of olive oil into a heavy-bottomed frying pan (copper for preference) on a low to medium heat, and when it’s hot, toss in four garlic cloves that have been left in their jackets (you can crush them very slightly with the flat of a knife blade if you wish). Add the chopped or sliced porcini mushrooms and the whole sage leaves, tossing to amalgamate. Turn the heat down and cook slowly for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Drain the pasta when it’s still properly al dente and add it to the mushrooms with a little of the cooking water you kept aside, stirring to amalgamate and finish cooking the pasta. This should take no more than two minutes, probably less.
Leave the scampi until right at the end. Heat a slug of oil in a small pan and when it’s nice and hot, place the scampi carefully in, back side in the oli, pressing down gently with a wooden spoon or spatula so that they take colour on this side for around twenty seconds (do them one by one if you prefer, but be sure to keep the already cooked ones warm). The idea is that they should be mi-cuit and nearly raw on the side that had no contact with the oil.
Serve the pasta as seen in the photo, with the calamarata rings standing upright in the mushroom sauce and the scampi artistically arranged above, sprinkled with raw mushroom slices and baby basil leaves. Guaranteed to impress even the most demanding dinner party guest!
Photos © Roberto Salomone