Cooking in Italy: linguine with limpets

Panarea viewThis 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.

Screen Shot 2014-07-27 at 9.02.52 AM







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.

patelle in cucinaPlace a colander in a bowl filled with salted cold water-sea water is ideal if you have easy access to it. Pour the limpets in until you are ready to use them.

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.

Linguine alle patelleWhen the preferred doneness is reached, add a last splash of cooking water and the remaining olive oil, turn off the heat, toss well to give a creamy mouth feel and serve immediately.

The children will gobble them up, I promise.

Italian summer cooking: moscardini and cicale di mare

It's 9pm, still light, the crickets rub their limbs to a tune that melts with the song I'm playing on the iPad from which I'm writing this. My 13 year old nephew is untangling a fishing line, my child is drowsily narrating his day on a boat through the window, a nanny is getting the 6 and under set ready for bed after a day of sun, sand and sea. Somewhere sisters and cousins are plotting an ice cream and alcohol run after the kids are asleep. These are the cherished sounds of summer life in Ansedonia. I have been coming here all my life and I love it, I love the sensations I experience nowhere else. Tonight, it's a favorite dress scented with the braising of moscardini and my mouth gently cut by wrestling with a plateful of cicale di mare.

Cicale di mare or canocchie are mantis shrimp: flattish shellfish, about the size of a prawn, light grey in color when raw, with a soft but peskily spiky shell, their sweetness is unrivaled in the category. They have a limited season during which their flavor and desirability changes depending on how close they are to being laden with eggs. You don't eat cicale, you ungracefully suck them out of the shell. The race to brave the thorny shells is part of the fun: at the end of the meal, he with the highest mound of empty carcasses and the most shredded lips wins.


I like cicale simply prepared, as their flavor needs no intrusion. I season a pot of water with 1 or 2 lemon slices, a fistful of parsley, a splash of white wine and a handful of coarse sea salt. When the water boils, I drop in the cicale, cover them and turn the heat off. I leave them for about 10 minutes then drain the water, arrange the cicale on a plate and douse them with lemon juice and olive oil.

Moscardini or musky octopus are a spotted brown rather than mottled dark grey with a smaller, stouter head and shorter tentacles lined with only one row of suction cups. Their flavor is less invasive than that of regular octopus, their flesh tasting undefinably of the waves and salt in which they float.


I braised the moscardini in tomato with basil, garlic, olives and capers. Of the kilo I made, not a speck was left, mostly thank to my 6 year old nephew's appreciation. I have made similar recipes back in San Francisco, my other home, and though it might not be as poetically loaded, the yield is still delicious.

Moscardini in umido con olive e capperi Tomato braised moscardini with olives and capers

for 6 people 1.5 pounds moscardini (or baby octopus or fresh squid) 1/2 pound sweet small tomatoes (sugar plum or very ripe cherry) 2 garlic cloves 1 generous handful basil leaves salt to taste olive oil splash dry white wine 2 tablespoons tomato concentrate 1/2 cup black olives 1/4 cup capers packed in salt pepper to taste

If you are in Italy, the fishmonger will clean your moscardini for you. Should you be somewhere with no such luck, then you will need to clean your critter of choice as follows.

Octopus: turn the head inside out and remove the innards, rinse and turn back over. Turn the tentacles around, you will see a little beak in the center of the tentacles, squeeze it out. I like leaving the eyes in, as I feel no guilt in being looked at by my food, but if you are squeamish, then either poke and squeeze free the eyes or carefully cut them out with scissors.

Squid or calamari: divide the body from the tentacles, turn the tentacles around and squeeze out the beak. Treat the eyes as above. Remove the bone and the guts from the body and rinse clean.

In either case do not remove the skin, it is a decidedly non-Italian thing to do.

Cut the tomatoes in half or quarters, depending on their size. Peel the garlic and mince it with the basil leaves and a generous pinch of salt. Rinse, pit and half the olives. Wash the salt off the capers and soak in warm water until ready to use them.

In a shallow sauce pot gently soften the garlic and basil mince into some olive oil without burning. Add the critters and sauté over high heat until they start changing color. Season with salt and deglaze with wine.

Add the tomato pieces and sauté until the tomatoes start to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the concentrate then add some warm water, just so that it covers the bottom third.

20130704-182742.jpg Mix in the olives and capers and turn down the heat. Braise slowly, adding warm water only when necessary. They will need to cook for at least 45 minutes and up to over an hour, depending on the size of the selected cephalopod, they should be fork tender.

Adjust salt and pepper and serve warm to room temperature with some toasted crusty bread. You can add some heat by using red pepper flakes rather than black pepper.