In winter many of us are happy to take a bit more time preparing meals – chopping stuff to pop into the slow cooker to enjoy later; cooking down a sulfurous pile of onions to a sweet tangle of deliciousness. But Spring, well it is the shape of things to come, with gardens to be pottered in, hills to be climbed, miles to be run (the first only for me!). After a cooped up winter we just want to be outside, not inside reducing a heavy sauce or tending to a stovetop stew. So even though the temperature is not yet playing ball, I am just going to pretend it is warm, willing on the thermometer with spring-fresh meals like this.
If I had a penny for every version of this zingy dish, I would indeed be a rich woman. But just because it is well-represented in cookbooks, on the Internet and in magazines doesn’t mean it isn’t special. For me this dish represents spring – its freshness, its seasonality and its ease. Truly it is one of the first non-wintry dishes that I am drawn to make. And we continue to make versions of it until crab season ends and my own supply of kitchen garden herbs is but a memory. Right now I am cheating a bit as we are still unseasonably cold (single Celsius digits -boo), but crab and commercially grown new season’s herbs are in full swing and plentiful. If I could hold out until July (!) new garlic, soft and mild, would be in it too.
Another reason I am ineluctably drawn to making this dish right now – while I am still wearing layers of wool and my feet have only been bare in the shower – is I am paying delicious penance for an indulgent weekend. After a couple of days of not giving a stuff what we ate, all of us here at food to glow are clamouring for clean, fresh and snappy flavours. This easy recipe fulfils this brief in just a few ingredients. But we are holding off on the usual accompanying glass of knife-sharp white.
Other recipes of this ilk are just as easy - this one from BBC Good Food is super simple and includes white wine; this one from Nigella is predictably luxurious with its overdose of pasta and olive oil, but with a shot of health from watercress. Really all of these recipes – mine included – are just a template. The only rules seem to be to use fresh herbs, good quality, slightly al dente pasta, and best quality crab. The latter can be tinned (least favoured option, but year-round), or frozen (year-round too), but fresh and picked-over by your fishmonger is best: its sweetness will balance well with the sharp citrus and grassy herbs. If crab is pricey where you are then crayfish are a good option, also being surprisingly sweet, and without the possibility of finding bits of shell in your dish. Alternatively, you might like to use creamy white beans for a very acceptable vegan version. I actually like it this way with some avocado for a quick and cheap lunch for one, also ditching the pasta in favour of Ryvita crispbreads (the ones with the seeds – yum). You can also amp up the heat subtly with a grating of fresh ginger, or replace the chilli with the ginger, full stop.
Because this recipe is loaded with fresh herbs I can’t think of a more appropriate place to link up with than over at Karen of Lavender and Lovage’s delightful Herbs On Saturday. And while I’m at it maybe Mark of Javelin Warrior’s Cookin’ With Luv will let me pop this onto his Made With Love Mondays. Both are open to all food bloggers, so if you have a herby or made from scratch recipe you wish to share, go over and visit them for the rules and regs. I hope to see you over there!
What recipe says Spring to you?
This week 2012: Forager’s Fritters
Miss R’s Track of the Week: Gezillig by fantastic Scottish band The OK Social Club (fronted by the fabulous and charismatic Raff Eragona)
In my house, this easy flavoursome dish gets made as soon as crab season commences. Of course it can be made with canned crab, and most definitely frozen crab, but the happy coincidence of fresh outdoor grown herbs and seasonal crab makes it all the more enjoyable. I sometimes pad it out with slivers (well, chunks) of ripe avocado, but mostly we plump for all-crab and hang the cost.
I have stipulated white claw meat but if you like the earthy assertiveness of brown, be my guest to substitute some of the costlier white for more wallet-friendly brown. And it goes without saying really that you can use gluten-free pasta. For that matter you can skip the pasta altogether and use the chilli-herb-crab melange as a topping for toasted bread (crostini) or even slices of cucumber (posh party nibble). Any leftovers make an unusual omelette filling the next morning. Or so I would think. We’ve never had leftovers.
Chilli flakes or grated ginger, optional garnish for more heat.
Cook the pasta as directed for al dente while you make up the crab mixture.
For the crab mixture, pop the garlic, chilli and salt either in a food processor or use a pestle and mortar. For either option, pulse or pound until it you get a paste. Now add in the herbs and pulse/pound until you have a chunky but well-mixed paste. Decant the spicy herby, fantastic-smelling paste into a bowl and mix in the crab meat, citrus juice, zest and olive oil- mixing well with a fork.
When the pasta is cooked, drain it, pop it back into the pan and then pour in the crab mixture, forking it through evenly – I usually use tongs to lift and turn it all around. Taste for seasoning – maybe more citrus, maybe more salt or more chilli. Serve immediately.
Vegan option: Use best-quality cooked white beans or edamame – delicious