Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: Think outside of the pot -- bake your pasta in little paper parcels.
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This is an ingenious dinner party dish: You can prepare the packages early in the day and simply bake them right before serving. It's a special and memorable way of serving dinner to your guests.
The seafood is cooked in white wine with fresh tomatoes and garlic before it's tossed with parboiled spaghetti; the pasta is then wrapped up tightly in paper and baked in the oven. For added delight and surprise, guests open their own little paper packages at the table.
This classic south-central Italian dish is a favorite in regions like Puglia, Abruzzo, and Calabria, where beautiful coastlines and good seafood (in particular shellfish) abound. This particular recipe uses fresh tomatoes, clams, shrimp, and calamari and is typical of the area of Chieti in Abruzzo. The cartoccio (paper package) technique is also commonly done with mussels and tomato purée in Puglia; you may also see this done with baby octopus instead of the calamari. Near Naples they do a version with clams (vongole veraci) and zucchini.
If you can't find the exact shellfish typical of the Mediterranean, don't worry. Ask your trusted fishmonger for some advice on what is good and in season and substitute as you please. Linguine and short pasta shapes also work well in place of spaghetti.
I like to leave the shells on for visual effect -- and it's more typical to see this dish prepared this way -- but if you don't want to get your fingers dirty, you can always remove the shells in advance.
You can either make individually wrapped pastas (which is my preference and a nice presentation), or prepare one large package for the sake of simplicity. To do the latter, place a couple of large sheets of aluminum foil onto a baking or casserole dish, place the pasta on top, and seal the foil together to trap the steam. Present it at the table with a pair of tongs for serving.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.