Saturday, 17 November 2012

Making up for No Shells!

After breakfast, Nali and I fell into a conversation about food, in particular the spaghetti con vongole that Inspector Montalbano enjoys in the TV series of the same name. Spaghetti con vongole is indeed a favourite of mine and Nal's. Living here in Norfolk it's easy enough to find cockles, a tiny form of vongole, but of course they are sold already cooked and the real downside of that is the complete absence of liquor from the fresh cockles that would ultimately flavour the sauce in the most delicious way.

We decided mussels would make a good alternative and headed off to the fishmonger. There we found not only cooked cockles but brown shrimp, a speciality here in Norfolk. Thinking on my feet I bought half a pint of both and planned how I could create a recipe to deal with the absence of Cockle liquor to create a sauce for our pasta.
This is what I came up with. In a tablespoon of olive oil, I gently fried a small onion, finely chopped, a teaspoon of fennel seeds, a small stick of celery finely chopped and a small piece of fresh fennel bulb, again finely chopped. Once the vegetables had softened, about 5 minutes over a gentle heat, I added 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (Nali did the chopping) and after frying gently for no more than a minute I added a small 50ml of Noilly Prat. I continued to cook gently until the liquid was reduced before adding another 50ml and about 100ml of the water from the pot that was boiling the pasta, the smallest amount of tinned tomatoes, no more than a tablespoon, and an equal amount of double cream. I seasoned with salt and pepper and the sauce was ready for the spaghetti.

I have to say, for me nothing beats spaghetti con vongole, but this dish came a very close second, the addition of the brown shrimp helped enormously to bring a taste of the sea to this pasta dish. A sprinkle of chopped parsley completed our dish for lunch.

 Notes: Eat more brown shrimp! the industry, small as it is these days, needs us, thank you.


  1. This recipe reminds me of when I was a child and my grandmother made us pantyhose nets to catch the little river shrimp that swam in the reeds in the estury. My sister and I used to catch them and tote them back up to Grandma's house and we would cook them. They had the most intense sweet salty fishy taste for what was predominately shells with a teeny bit of meat and I think we ate them shells and all! Too much hard work to peel these tiny things. I would imagine that they would work amazingly well in this dish too :)

    1. I agree, these tiny shrimp pack an amazing amount of flavour for their size. Fortunately it's possible to buy them ready peeled here, at a price of course. I have seen a local woman who has been peeling these shrimp for the past 30 years, she is able to peel around 4,000 a day, her fingers moving like a machine. Happy Baking, Tôbi