Almost Happy Summer! I want to share with you one of my favorite menus to date. Seriously…I could eat this menu everyday! If you love all things Italian, you will be happy.
Of course, there’s a story. My favorite North Carolina seafood source is The Shrimp Connection. The owner, Landon Wilder, has become a great friend & collaborator. Anyhoo, we started talking a couple of weeks ago about doing a new menu together, & we thought it would be fun to create a menu with soft shell crabs as the main course. If you are a crab lover, you will love soft shell crabs, & you should try them…if you’re already hooked, you know what I’m talking about.
Soft shell crabs are nothing more than crabs who have molted, or lost their hard shells. The crabs are eaten in their entirety, which I know is a little weird…& most people have to get past that part…but, think about it, you get all that wonderful crab flavor without having to deal with any shells! To me, that’s a bonus. Although I’m a hard shell crab lover as well…”soft shells” are just easier to eat, & boy, they’re so delicious! The key to remember is that the “molted” season is short…by mid-July, those pesky hard shells reappear, so now is the time to get your fill!
As a teenager, my dad taught me to eat soft shell crabs with pasta…I remember driving to the “Shore”, as we Philadelphians call it, around mid-June, just after the school year ended, & we would go to this great little Italian restaurant in Somers Point, NJ, & we always ordered Pasta with Soft Shell Crabs…soft shells simmered in garlic, lemon & olive oil, then served over linguini with lots of Italian parsley, & sometimes a little tomato..& red pepper flakes…thrown in as well. There is no word to describe how delicious this dish is.
So, when Landon & I began discussing a soft shell crab recipe, he immediately mentioned doing a pasta dish, & he shared with me his favorite recipe, created by acclaimed New York Times journalist & accomplished chef, Mark Bittman, also known as The Minimalist. Please checkout Mark’s website, you will love it. Of course, I read Mark’s recipe for Pasta with Soft Shell Crabs, & the big difference between how he makes the pasta & how I always ate it was this…Mark cuts up the sautéed soft shell crab, then adds the pasta, whereas I have always had the crab served whole, & we would cut the crab, & eat the tender, succulent pieces with a forkful of pasta…OMG…I bet you can already guess how I served my version of Pasta with Soft Shell Crabs. Yep, the soft shells were served whole…with tomatoes, a splash of white wine & a little lemon…
…& my secret ingredient, garlic scapes, another early Summer fave.
If you’re unaware of what garlic scapes are, you may want to learn. Scapes are the flowering stalks of the garlic bulb, & they appear in farmer’s markets about late-May to mid-July. Locally, my favorite source is Cornerstone Farms. Garlic scapes are removed in the Spring/early Summer, allowing the garlic bulbs to grow to their full potential…& I highly recommend that, if you can purchase some, do it! The scapes have a wonderful garlic flavor, yet it’s slightly milder & more delicate than garlic cloves. Plus, garlic scapes are simply beautiful. I just love them…& since both scapes and soft shells seem to have the same season, guess what went into the dish? You guessed it! Total yumminess!
So, what did I pair with this early Summer Italian pasta dish…more Italian, of course! Lemon Garlic Zucchini Slaw…”skinny”, summery & very Italian…I really think Italian whenever I think of zucchini…anyhoo, it’s a great accompaniment to the pasta. The zucchini slaw is also a great base for a multitude of additions…tomatoes, orzo, different proteins…whatever you think!
As a first course, I decided that peaches & prosciutto, one of my favorite flavor combinations, would be a great starter or first course. Even though most people think melon & prosciutto, I really prefer peaches to the melon. Rather than simply wrapping prosciutto around the peaches, I made prosciutto “chips”…panfrying prosciutto until crispy, then breaking them into pieces & scattering them over a salad of lemony-tossed arugula & a grilled peach-half filled with mascarpone…add a little freshly ground pepper & balsamic vinegar, & you have Heaven on a plate.
Dessert…when it’s Summer, I’m doing something with fruit. For this menu, I made a Peach-Strawberry-Raspberry Crostata…these fruits, tossed with ground vanilla bean, sugar & a little King Arthur Flour Signature Secrets…you need to check out this baking gem…& placed in the center of a roll-out pie crust…fold up the edges, bake & serve! Crostatas are the easiest “pies” to make, & because of that, the tastiest, because I didn’t have to work that hard to make dessert. Let’s face it…Entertaining should be EASY!
So, get cooking this weekend & please try this Early Summer Italian Dinner Menu. If Dad is a soft shell crab fan, he will love this menu! I promise, you will love it as well! Be sure to visit one of The Shrimp Connection’s 4 locations if you’re a North Carolinian! Serve a little rosé…a great, cold rosé pairs wonderfully with this entire menu…& enjoy some while you cook, because this menu really can be made in an hour. Perfect for Summer! Cheers!