Pasta alla capricciosella

Pasta alla capricciosella (Pasta with Squid, Mushrooms and Peas)

In Lazio, pasta, primi piatti by Frank48 Comments

My nostaglia for Rome often brings me to a website and Facebook page called Roma Sparita or, literally, “Disappeared Rome”. The site features a entrancing combination of  old photographs and prints of a by-gone Rome along with amusing poems written in romanesco, Roman dialect, in the style of Trilussa. I recently stumbled upon this poem ‘recipe’ for pasta alla capricciosella by actor and buongustaio Aldo Fabrizi—who in his lifetime published whole books of culinary poetry—and was immediately charmed:

Provate a fà ‘sto sugo ch’è un poema:
piselli freschi, oppure surgelati,
calamaretti, funghi «cortivati»,
così magnate senz’avè patema.

Pe fà li calamari c’è un sistema:
se mettono a pezzetti martajati
nell’ ajo e l’ojo e bene rosolati,
so’ teneri che pareno ‘na crema

Appresso svaporate un po’ de vino:
poi pommidoro, funghi e pisellini
insaporiti cor peperoncino.

Formaggio gniente, a la maniera antica,
fatece bavettine o spaghettini…
Bon appetito e Dio ve benedica!

I knew I had to try this recipe—and it didn’t disappoint. The combination of flavors—seafood and vegetables—was rustic yet refined. And I knew I had to share with you.

I was almost tempted to simply post this ‘recipe’ and leave it at that. Maybe start a contest to see who could guess how to make the dish based only on the photo and guesses about the poem—no Italian speakers allowed, of course.  Call it my impish side… 😉 Even if you read romanesco, you might have a hard time following this recipe: like many old-fashioned Italian recipes, it has no measurements, no cooking times and few other details either. That’s because those traditional recipes assume some basic knowledge about Italian cooking techniques, in this case how to make pasta, that every Italian has (or at least most did, in the old days…). I actually sort of followed this pattern when I first started blogging. I liked the idea of recipes that were more stories than directions, but I quickly realized that food story approach alone was not going to work, at least if I wanted my readers to actually cook from my posts. So I gave in and started to post recipes in the usual format—trying to keep, however, that story telling feeling as much as I could.

In any event, let me translate this recipe for pasta alla capricciosella, not just into English prose—and no, I won’t even attempt to re-create the poem!—but into the usual recipe format, with specific times and measurements which, of course, are just reflections of my own preferences. Since none of that is actually given, feel free to vary as your fancy takes you.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6 people

For 400g (14 oz.) spaghetti, bavette or linguini (or other long pasta of your choice)

  • 500g (1 lb) baby squid, cleaned and roughly chopped (see Notes)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
  • Olive oil
  • White wine
  • 200g (7 oz) cherry or grape tomatoes, split in half (see Notes)
  • 100g (3-1/2 oz) mushrooms, roughly sliced or chopped (see Notes)
  • 100g (3-1/2 oz) peas, frozen or fresh
  • A few sprigs of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

In a sauté pan large enough to hold all the pasta, sauté the garlic cloves in abundant olive oil over moderate heat until they are just beginning to brown. Remove the garlic cloves and add the chopped calamari. Season with salt and pepper, stirring so that all the little pieces are nicely coated with the flavored oil. Turn the heat down to very low and cover the pan.

Let the squid braise until it is very tender, about 20-30 minutes for baby squid, 45-60 minutes for ‘regular’ squid. The squid will give off a fair amount of liquid to begin with, but as it cooks it may dry out, in which case add a few spoonfuls of water or wine from time to time to keep things moist. The squid itself should be much reduced in size and darken as its liquid cooks out; this is perfectly normal.

While the squid is cooking, start the pasta water going, then prep your veggies.

When the squid is done, uncover it, increase the  heat to medium-high and add the white wine. Let the wine reduce, then add your veggies. Mix well to cover them completely with the sauce in the pan. Season well with salt and pepper as you stir.

Then, once again, reduce the heat and cover the pan. Let the veggies braise until the mushrooms are tender, about another 10 minutes or so. The tomatoes will soften and begin to ‘melt’ into the sauce, but not completely. A minute or two before the end, add the red pepper flakes and half of the chopped parsley.

Just when you cover the pan again, salt the boiling water very well and add your pasta, making sure that . it should be done about the same time as your veggies. When it is done very al dente, add the pasta to sauce in the sauté pan. Lower the heat as low as it will go, and mix it all up so that the pasta is well coated with the sauce. If things are a bit dry or sticky, add some more pasta water to loosen things up. The pasta should not be at all watery but slight ‘slither’ around the pan easily.

Serve immediately in warmed pasta dishes. The best way to do this is to grab a good portion of pasta with some tongs (or a pasta fork) and swirl it into the dish. Then spoon out a nice portion of the sauce, with squid and veggies, too, on top of the pasta. If you like, sprinkle a bit of fresh parsley on top for garnish, perhaps with un filo d’olio—a drizzle of olive oil.  As the poem so rightly recommends, no cheese.

Notes on Pasta alla capricciosella

I can find baby squid, pre-cleaned and frozen, in my local supermarket. It is a real god-send. Baby squid (or calamaretti) are much more tender then ‘regular’ squid and have a wonderfully sweet flavor. But if you can only find the larger kind, no worries, it will just need to cook longer to reach that point of perfect tenderness at which, as Fabrizi describes it, the squid becomes almost ‘creamy’. Most squid sold in the US these days comes pre-cleaned, but if that’s not the case for you, this useful post gives step-by-step photographed instructions.

In his recipe for pasta alla capricciosella, Fabrizi does not specify cherry tomatoes, and in summer you could use fresh tomatoes in season. But cherry tomatoes do a very nice job, adding a bit of color and tomato flavor without overwhelming the dish. If you want to add canned tomatoes, add fewer and let the veggies cook longer than indicated above, holding back the peas for the first 5 minutes or so, so they don’t overcook.

As for the mushroom, garden-variety cultivated supermarket mushrooms are fine—in fact, the recipe calls for them—but I like those packs of mixed mushrooms. I would not use expensive wild mushrooms for this dish, however—not worth the price in a simple dish like this, where their taste would, in any event, be playing second-fiddle to the squid.

Pasta alla capricciosella, by the way, takes it name (I think) from an old song you can list to on YouTube.

Pasta alla capricciosella (Pasta with Squid, Mushrooms and Peas)

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: Serves 4-6

Pasta alla capricciosella (Pasta with Squid, Mushrooms and Peas)

Ingredients

    For 400g (14 oz.) spaghetti, bavette or linguini (or other long pasta of your choice)
  • 500g (1 lb) baby squid, cleaned and roughly chopped (see Notes)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
  • Olive oil
  • White wine
  • 200g (7 oz) cherry or grape tomatoes, split in half (see Notes)
  • 100g (3-1/2 oz) mushrooms, roughly sliced or chopped (see Notes)
  • 100g (3-1/2 oz) peas, frozen or fresh
  • A few sprigs of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. In a sauté pan large enough to hold all the pasta, sauté the garlic cloves in abundant olive oil over moderate heat until they are just beginning to brown. Remove the garlic cloves and add the chopped calamari. Season with salt and pepper, stirring so that all the little pieces are nicely coated with the flavored oil. Turn the heat down to very low and cover the pan.
  2. Let the squid braise until it is very tender, about 20-30 minutes for baby squid, 45-60 minutes for 'regular' squid. The squid will give off a fair amount of liquid to begin with, but as it cooks it may dry out, in which case add a few spoonfuls of water or wine from time to time to keep things moist. The squid itself should be much reduced in size and darken as its liquid cooks out; this is perfectly normal.
  3. While the squid is cooking, start the pasta water going, then prep your veggies.
  4. When the squid is done, uncover it, increase the heat to medium-high and add the white wine. Let the wine reduce, then add your veggies. Mix well to cover them completely with the sauce in the pan. Season well with salt and pepper as you stir.
  5. Then, once again, reduce the heat and cover the pan. Let the veggies braise until the mushrooms are tender, about another 10 minutes or so. The tomatoes will soften and begin to 'melt' into the sauce, but not completely. A minute or two before the end, add the red pepper flakes and half of the chopped parsley.
  6. Just when you cover the pan again, salt the boiling water very well and add your pasta, making sure that . it should be done about the same time as your veggies. When it is done very al dente, add the pasta to sauce in the sauté pan. Lower the heat as low as it will go, and mix it all up so that the pasta is well coated with the sauce. If things are a bit dry or sticky, add some more pasta water to loosen things up. The pasta should not be at all watery but slight 'slither' around the pan easily.
  7. Serve immediately in warmed pasta dishes. The best way to do this is to grab a good portion of pasta with some tongs (or a pasta fork) and swirl it into the dish. Then spoon out a nice portion of the sauce, with squid and veggies, too, on top of the pasta. If you like, sprinkle a bit of fresh parsley on top for garnish, perhaps with un filo d'olio—a drizzle of olive oil. As the poem so rightly recommends, no cheese.
http://memoriediangelina.com/2013/03/10/pasta-alla-capricciosella-pasta-with-squid-mushrooms-and-peas/
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Comments

  1. Perfect timing:) This is an amazing recipe and very useful for the Holy Week when we observe the Lent more strictly, ourselves. Loved the simplicity in the ingredients and the fact that you didn’t mention a specific quantity of olive oil.
    Thanx so much for the delicious dish Frank and have a wonderful, Happy Easter if observing.
    Mirella and Panos

    1. Author

      Never mention the quantity of olive oil… the way I cook, it would scandalize the readership. 😉

  2. Hi – I’m going to cook this interesting dish tonite. I’d like to ask one thing: cooking squid for the time indicated seems way too long and would end in a tough-textured result, no? I’m thinking of cooking squid after veggies and maybe for a few minutes only, then switch off and let natural heat finish cooking. What do others think?

    1. Author

      Squid can be cooked one of two ways: Either very hot and fast, as when frying or grilling, or very slow and long, as when braising as in this case. Anything in between will indeed, turn out tough.

  3. Frank., I am so glad you posted this recipe again. It’s look wonderful and I will bookmark it and make it when I return from Germany. I am not very familiar with cooking squid and needed all your wonderful instructions. Just reading your post makes me want to return to Rome. What a beautiful city.

  4. My Italian side is Sicilian, but I have yet to visit Sicily. Love Sicilian recipes, however. But I will never be able to cook with squid unless I have it shipped to me! Lovely recipe, beautiful post.

  5. I loved the poem and I’m always a sucker for a challenge. Now, the amounts I’d have to work with — I can’t wait to try this recipe!! I do love the ingredients and I believe I know of a place where I can find baby squid. I wish I would have written down my mamma’s recipes or at least tried to follow what she was doing. The ingredients were always simple but Ahh! the taste!! Grazie, Frank, your recipes are always wonderful.

    1. Author

      Thanks so much, Marisa Franca! It’s so often the case that we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone… I know from experience, too.

  6. … slightly off topic… Aldo Fabrizi: I would dare say that for many Italian he was much more than an actor.. he was a myth, alongside Anna Magnani and Totò and the De Filippo brothers…

    If one likes movies and the history of movies, his turn in Rome Open City is really unmissable (with Anna Magnani); if you understand Italian do check him also in the lovely film called Campo de’ Fiori (again with Anna Magani), which shows his lighter side and where he plays

    he had a sister, sora Lella, another Roman institution, the owner and cook of the Trastevere restaurant/institution Sora Lella (still running, but who knows the quality…)

    …lovely recipe: in the seventies this would have been called Pasta Mari e monti (Mountain and sea side pasta) or something similar..

    1. Author

      Rome, Open City was one of the great films of all time. Your reminder makes me want to see it again this weekend—perhaps while enjoying this pasta… !

  7. I love this!! I understood most (or a lot) of the poem! The pasta dish itself looks great, except I’ve never been a pea girl, so I’d have to omit those.

    I know what you mean about the lack of measurements in Italian recipes. I still am in awe my mother’s original Il Cucchiaio D’argento book with the way all the recipes are so vague! Just shows you how EVERYONE used to know how to cook and bake back then.

    Thanks for a lovely post, Frank!

    1. Author

      So true, Christina. Back in the day recipes could be really, really short because you could assume a lot of basic knowledge. Made life easier for cookbook authors!

  8. Claudia, do you have an Asian supermarket (or superette) where you live? I buy frozen baby squid at a nearby Vietnamese small supermarket.

    I loved both the Roma sparita site and your transposition of the recipe; however I could easily make it from the original guidelines. I don’t usually like cherry tomatoes, but not long ago (in wintertime!) I found some of a San Marzano type that actually have the taste and texture of such tomatoes – I find cherry tomatoes too watery.

    I did study dialectology – 30 years ago? but reading recipes in Sicilian is a bit more of a challenge. Like many in Italian studies (and history), I was on scolarships to Perugia, and Umbrian is in between the dialects of Tuscany and Lazio… I also spent a lot of time in Rome, with authentic Romans.

    1. Author

      Dialectology must have been a fascinating subject to study—and Italy has a quite a few, as you surely know. You could probably spend a lifetime learning them all.

  9. OK, Google translate helped with the poem, so I could figure out how to make this dish, more or less. More. Or less. 🙂 Anyway, good stuff! I loved long-cooked squid — you don’t have to stress so much over the timing, and its flavor becomes magnificent. Really good dish — thanks.

  10. The poem is just wonderful, Frank! And the dish looks pretty incredible – I’m headed to Whole Foods today so I will pick up some baby squid. Mark was saying that he wanted something with mushrooms for dinner… I don’t think he will be expecting this! (But I know he will love it!)

    P. S. – I am planning on spending a good part of the afternoon making several different batches of Taralli. Your recipe, of course. If it’s okay with you, I will post mine sometime in the future with credit to you.

    1. Author

      I do hope you guys liked it, David. And the taralli if you made them. Looking forward to the post!

  11. Hi Frank, I just found this receipe and tried it this evening, a very nice change to squid arrabiata. Thank you

    Andrew

  12. Thank you Frank, for sharing this recipe. I never would have thought to combine peas and mushrooms with the squid. I get the frozen baby squid here in New England…they are a really blessing.

  13. What an artful and enchanting piece of work, Frank. You elevate “food blogging,” and make us all proud! Complimenti!

  14. I have his soup book and every now and then I open it to read a few lines and hear his voice again. I love this: “così magnate senz’avè patema.” I know it is easy to slide into silly nostalgia, but the elegant irony and sense of humor of Fabrizi is gone gone. Nowadays, it is all screaming and temper tantrum-throwing. “Bon appetito e Dio ve benedica!” Thank you, Frank.

    1. I wish I had bought one of his books while I had the chance… And I also wish that I could travel back in time and experience Italy in the 50s and early 60s, seems like a marvelous place. Modern life everywhere seems to have become rather coarse and, well, uncivilized.

  15. No baby squid in Minnesota. I am so sad. This looks heavenly. They do sell stuff that tastes like rubber. I love short recipes, long stories and improv. I’ve fashioned plays from recipe stories! The pasta dish is the perfect example of how Italians meld flavors and textures so lovingly.

  16. Frank – I too, love that site Roma Sparita, and those beautiful paintings of Ettore Franz. I used to linger over them at a small museum in Trastevere where they have a permanent collection. Every once in a while, I look at my collection of postcards of his paintings and “deign” to put one in the mail to a friend. But it’s hard to part with them. This dish, however, would not be difficult to part with. I just bought some “calamari” pasta yesterday and would love to try that shape with this recipe.

    1. Would that be the Museo di Roma in Trastevere? I must have passed it a million times, living right across the river, but believe it or not, I never went in. Not sure why…

  17. Interesting combination of flavors, textures, and colors. Bet it tasted heavenly. I need to keep an eye out for baby squid.
    Lori Lynn

  18. Grande Fabrizi.
    It ‘s true, the old recipes were very concise, often just the list of ingredients.
    The contest was a great idea, I hope for a next time: almost a treasure hunt.

    This site with old Sicilian recipes, faithfully transcribed, gives an idea of ​​this kind of “dry” memorisation . To cook them is a real challenge for the future.
    http://www.arkamedia.org/index1.htm

    1. Wow, those are *really* short recipes! Thanks for the link—the site looks absolutely charming and I’ve bookmarked it for future delectation.

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