This is what I have been waking up to in the last 4 days. Ernesto and I are staying with friends on the splendidly choreographed island of Panarea, part of a volcanic archipelago called Eolie off the northwest coast of Sicily. The inches where water and stone meet all around the island's coastline are dotted with limpets-patelle in italian-prehistorical looking, ridged, cone shaped shells that stick to the rocks hiding an oval of flavor and texture equal to only its own. I have never seen limpets in a fish market, but in times much past, my mother taught me to forage them.
She showed me that by wedging the tip of a small knife under the shell then slowly wiggling it, one can kindly break the kiss between rock and limpet, then catch the valve as it falls, and-she told me-the patience required by the task would be well worth it in taste. As it happened, I got lost in how "far patelle"-gathering limpets ate my summer afternoons in the sweetest of way, motions and sounds of ebb and flow could hold my focus for hours.
The reward for my efforts lay in watching my mother dose her kitchen skills to shape the bittersweet springiness of patelle into one more brick for the house of my memories.
Yesterday afternoon I found out that patelle magic still holds, when I passed the secret on to my child and his friends, with the same motherly promise that their harvest would find new purpose through pots and pans. The children harvested until 7pm, at 8:30, I kept my promise.
Linguine alle patelle Linguine with limpets
for 6 people 2 pounds freshly harvested limpets salt to taste 1 pound linguine 1/2 handful basil leaves 1 to 2 garlic cloves 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil pepper to taste
Rinse the limpets several times under running water. Limpets live on rocks, so usually a few vigorous rinses are plenty to scant any grit they might contain.
Mince the garlic into a paste using a generous pinch of salt. Stack the basil leaves and roll them lengthwise. Slice them into very thin ribbons.
Place the olive oil into a saute pan with the garlic and basil mince. Heat gently until the minced fragrances are kind of melting. In the meantime, drain the limpets.
Place the linguine into a pot of salted boiling water.
Throw the limpets into the pan and saute over lively heat no more than 4 to 5 minutes. You will see the limpets becoming slightly smaller and some of them detaching from their shells.
Taste the linguine, they should be about half way through cooking, meaning they will fold without stiffness but will still have quite the uncooked soul inside. Remove the pasta from the water using a set of tongs and add it to the limpets.
Turn the heat back on and finish cooking the pasta by adding small amounts of cooking water to it and letting it absorb before adding more while moving the pan around almost constantly to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom.
The children will gobble them up, I promise.