Linguine with Blue Crab Sauce

From Italian Family Dining (Rodale Books, 2005)

We serve this pasta every Christmas Eve, as part of the Cena della Vigilia feast. The recipe comes from Edward’s godfather, Tomasso, an Italian fellow who worked in the Pennsylvania coal mines. He never spoke English, and sent his money home to Abruzzo. An elegant man, he wore a derby hat and smoked his cigars in a holder he made from a rabbit bone. Tomasso was famous in the neighborhood for this pasta sauce, which the local ladies could never reproduce, although Edward’s mother said the secret was he never washed his pots well. It is very light and powerfully tasty. A version of this recipe was first published in Italian Family Cooking in 1971.

Note: You can substitute 2 lobsters for the crabs in this dish. Kill the lobsters first by plunging a sharp knife between the head and body, severing the spinal cord. Cook the lobsters as you do the crabs, and substitute fresh chopped mint for the basil.

Serves 4

6 live blue crabs
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red or green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and hot pepper flakes
3 cups whole canned Italian tomatoes, chopped
4 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil
3/4 pound linguine

  1. Clean the crabs: Remove the top shell by forcing a heavy knife blade under the flap on the underside of the crab. Push the knife in and wedge off the shell. Discard the shell. Remove the gills and discard. Wash the crabs. You can also ask your fishmonger to clean the crabs.
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bell pepper, garlic, and salt and hot pepper flakes to taste. Cook until the garlic begins to take on color, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, the basil, and the crabs. Cover and boil gently for 1 hour, until the vegetables in the sauce have completely broken down. Remove the crabs. Save them to serve as a second course, or to make crab stock.
  4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until it is almost al dente. Drain and add the pasta to the sauce. Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce over moderate heat, mixing constantly, for about 4 minutes, until the pasta is al dente.
  5. Serve each portion with a sprinkling of the remaining 2 tablespoons of parsley.