This was one of my favorite dishes that we had in Italy. It comes from the famous Buca di Bacco restaurant in Positano. This restaurant has served countless Holywood stars and american politicians over the years including Ronald Reagan, Eleanor Roosevelt, Denzel Washington and so many more. Buca di Bacco is renowned for its refined Italian dishes and this seafood pasta is one of them. Here’s my take on this delicious dish.
I loved eating this pasta seaside in Italy. It is the perfect beach dish. It’s got a beautiful lemony, buttery sauce that enhances the seafood rather than covering it up. The little bit of sweetness from the tomato is the perfect balance to the tang of the lemon. Between the lemon and the fresh seafood, this dish tastes like Positano to me. It’s the ocean in a dish.
Here’s Buca di Bacco’s version:
And here’s mine:
It turned out perfect! It tastes just like the one we had in Italy. It’s actually surprisingly identical. My husband and I kind of “ooh-ed” and “ahh-ed” over it while we were eating. He’s already requested it for his next birthday.
The key to giving this pasta the best flavor possible is to use really fresh seafood. Go to the seafood counter at your local grocery store and see what’s available and what looks good. Here in Scotland, we have access to really fresh mussels, squid, and shrimp so that is what I decided to use. The pasta that I had in Italy also used these ingredients, but feel free to use the seafood that is best where you live. Lobster, crawfish, and crab would be great substitutions.
If you are using mussels, you need to start by prepping them. They are living and are full of sand and dirt so make sure to clean them well or you might end up with grit in your pasta.
To clean the mussels, put them in a large bowl, cover them with water, and stir in 2 tbs of flour. Soak them for 30 minutes to allow the mussels disgorge any sand. Drain the mussels, then remove the “beard” from each one with your fingers. The beard looks a little like grass and you will have to pull pretty hard in some cases to remove it, but don’t give up, it does come off! If they’re dirty, scrub the mussels with a brush under running water. Even if they don’t appear to be very dirty, rinse the mussels well to ensure that any sand or grit is removed. Even though this is a beachy dish, the last thing you want in your pasta is sand. Discard any mussels whose shells aren’t tightly shut (there are always a few).
Once your mussels are prepped and ready to go, it’s time to start on the pasta. Bring a pot of SALTED water to a boil and add in a pound of fettuccine noodles. Not salting your pasta water is a cardinal sin of pasta cooking. Always, always, always salt your pasta water. This is your only chance to impart flavor into the pasta and it is incredibly important. Also, don’t just sprinkle in a tiny pinch. Italians say that your pasta water should be, “salty like the Mediterranean”. This is wise advice from a people whose diet consists of mostly pasta. Take heed.
Cook the pasta according to the package directions.
While the pasta cooks, melt 2 tbs of butter in a large sauce pan. Add in mined garlic and saute it until it’s slightly golden. Then, add in around 20 grape tomatoes and the zest of one lemon.
Season this mixture with salt and stir it around to cook the tomatoes evenly. Let the tomatoes cook for a couple of minutes until they start to blister and become wrinkly and soft.
Meanwhile, prep the rest of your seafood. If you are using squid like I did, remove the tentacles from the body and set them aside. No further prep is needed for those, they are good to go.
Slice the body cavities into 1/2 inch slices width wise to create rings.
And that’s it! I bought peeled and deveined shrimp so I didn’t need to do any prep on them except to take them out of the package. That’s my favorite kind of prep!
Back to the tomatoes. By now they should be nicely softened. Add 3/4 cup of water and the juice of a lemon to the saucepan. Season with salt and pour in the mussels. Stir well then put the lid on the pan and and cook over medium heat for 5 to 8 minutes, or until all the mussels are opened (discard any that do not open).
Once the mussels have all opened, gently stir in the rest of the seafood and cover the pan. Cook for another minute or just until the shrimp turn pink and curl. As soon as the shrimp are finished remove the pan from the heat.
Note:Squid (or calamari) is meant to be very light and tender, but if it gets overcooked it can become quite tough. It only needs to cook for a minutes or even a little less. If you have large shrimp that take a little longer to cook, you will need to add them to the pan and let them start cooking for a minute or two before you add in the squid. If you have small shrimp the shrimp and squid can be added in at the same time.
And that’s it! To serve, pile up some cooked pasta on a plate. Pour over the sauce and seafood mixture and toss together. Squeeze over a little lemon juice and sprinkle with some fresh parsley. To make the plate extra pretty, try arranging the mussels around the edge of the pasta.
This is what they do at Buca di Bacco and I think it’s so pretty!
This dish goes perfectly with a slice of fresh, crusty bread and a dry white wine.
When you eat this, close your eyes and imagine eating it while sitting on an Italian beach. It will really complete the whole Buca di Bacco experience for you. You’ll feel like you’re there! Now you don’t even need to travel!
Look at that, I just saved you a few thousand dollars!
Or maybe I’ve convinced you that you MUST travel to see that Italian beach for yourself… oops. Well, consider it a few thousand dollars well spent if that’s the case. The beach and the pasta are so worth it.
Positano Seafood Pasta
- 1 lb fresh mussels
- 2 tbs flour (for cleaning the mussels)
- 1/2 pound fresh squid, tentacles removed and body cavity cut into 1/2 inch rings
- 10-15 fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tbs of butter
- 20 grape tomatoes
- 3/4 cups water
- 1 lemon
- 1 lb fettuccine noodles, cooked according to the package directions
- fresh parsley for garnish (optional)
To clean the mussels, put them in a large bowl, cover them with water, and stir in 2 tbs of flour. Soak them for 30 minutes to allow the mussels disgorge any sand. Drain the mussels, then remove the “beard” from each one with your fingers. If they’re dirty, scrub the mussels with a brush under running water. Even if they don’t appear to be very dirty, rinse the mussels well to ensure that any sand or grit is removed. Discard any mussels whose shells aren’t tightly shut.
Melt the butter in large saucepan. Add in the garlic and saute until it is slightly golden. Add in the tomatoes and the zest of the lemon, season with salt, and stir to coat in the butter. Allow the tomatoes to cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until they are soft and wrinkled.
Add in the water, juice of the lemon, and a pinch of salt. Pour in the cleaned mussels, stir and cover the pan. Allow the mussels to cook over medium heat for 5 to 8 minutes or until all of the mussels are opened. Discard and that don’t open.
Once the mussels are opened, add in the shrimp and squid. Gently stir and cover the pot. Allow the seafood to cook for about a minute or until the shrimp are pink and curled. Taste the mixture for seasoning and add a little more salt if needed.
Note: If your shrimp are large, they will take longer to cook than the squid. If this is the case, add the shrimp to the pot before the squid. Once the shrimp are pink and starting to curl, add in the squid and cook for 1 minute.
To serve, toss together with the cooked fettuccine. Top with a squeeze of lemon and some fresh parsley. For an elegant presentation, plate the mussels in a ring around the pasta and arrange a few shrimp and calamari on top.