Lingering in the Mediterranean: Spaghetti with Seafood, Almonds, Capers and Parsley

by Terry B on July 29, 2009

A host of Mediterranean flavors come together in this quick, delicious seafood pasta. Recipe below.


Since our recent Washington, DC visit and Mellen’s amazing seafood bourride, we’ve continued to think a lot about Mediterranean cuisine. So when we came across the sumptuous cookbook Olives and Oranges: Recipes and Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus, and Beyond, we knew we’d be cooking more than a few things based on recipes we found here.

olives-orangesThe authors of this beautiful cookbook know a thing or two about the region’s food. As the daughter of a foreign correspondent, Sara Jenkins had lived in Italy, France, Spain, Lebanon and Cyprus by the time she was a teen. She put her love of Mediterranean flavors to work as chef of New York City restaurants such as Il Buco, I Coppi, Mangia and Porchetta. Co-author Mindy Fox is editor of La Cucina Italiana and a former editor at Saveur. She has written for many magazines and collaborated on a number of cookbooks. Alan Richardson supplies the amazing photographs.

The book opens with what Jenkins calls “My Flavor Pantry,” a comprehensive description of oils, vinegars, olives, seasonings, herbs, spices, anchovies, cured meats, pastas, legumes and more, all crucial ingredients in the Mediterranean kitchen. Then she takes us from small plates and salads through pastas, risottos, fish and meats, right on up to sweets and cordials—more than 140 recipes in all, divided into quick-cook and slow-cook categories.

Of this quick-cook recipe, Jenkins says, “Capers, parsley and lemon are a common pairing with fish in the Mediterranean. Flaked with a few turns of the fork, the fish and its flavorings become an unexpected, delicious sauce for pasta.” We couldn’t agree more, but it’s a more delicate flavor than the ingredients might suggest.

Spaghetti with Seafood, Almonds, Capers and Parsley
adapted from Olives and Oranges
Serves 4

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil [plus extra for drizzling, optional]
1 pound lemon sole fillets [or other white-fleshed fish—see Kitchen Notes]
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup whole almonds, coarsely chopped [see Kitchen Notes]
1/4 cup capers [drained but not rinsed—see Kitchen Notes]
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 pound spaghetti
salt and coarsely ground fresh black pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt generously. Once you’ve begun cooking the pasta, start the fish. Salt and pepper the fish fillets. Heat a large nonstick skillet over a medium high flame. Add 1/4 cup olive oil and fillets. Occasionally tilt pan and spoon oil over fish to help cook the top side. Cook until the bottom has formed a golden crust and the fish is just cooked through, about 4 minutes. Transfer fish to a large bowl.

Pour off oil in skillet and return pan to medium high heat. Melt butter in pan, add almonds, capers and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add parsley, stir and transfer mixture to bowl with fish. Using a fork, break fish into bits and toss with other ingredients. Add lemon zest and juice and gently stir to combine. Cover to keep warm while pasta cooks.

When pasta is al dente, drain it. Immediately add pasta and remaining 3 tablespoons of oil to bowl with fish mixture. Toss and season with pepper and salt. Finish with a drizzle of oil, if desired, and serve.

Kitchen Notes

Choosing your fish. The recipe calls for sole, but says you can substitute other white-fleshed fish, such as fluke or flounder. I used turbot, because it was the freshest white-fleshed fish I could find. Freshness is key here. In handling the fish during cooking, be as gentle as possible. These kinds of fish are very delicate and will break up and even turn to mush quite easily. When you’re mixing everything together at the end, do as little mixing as possible, using wooden spoons or other gentle tools.

Almonds—raw or roasted? Jenkins calls for raw almonds for this dish. We always have roasted almonds on hand, so I used those. Whichever you use, they should be unsalted.

Capers—packed in vinegar or salted? Same deal here. I generally have capers packed in vinegar around, but Jenkins swears by salted capers, praising their lively, sharp, pure flavor. If you use salted capers, be sure to rinse them several times. With vinegar-packed capers, don’t rinse them—the briny kick of the vinegar that remains after draining adds brightness to the dish.


{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Hannah July 29, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Did you top the finished dish with Parmesan or are you a purist who doesn’t mix cheese and fish?
I also bet it would be great with some red pepper flakes, but that’s just because I love some heat!

Laura July 29, 2009 at 3:49 pm

You know I saw this book a while back and remember being intrigued but for some reason I put it out of my mind. Thanks for the reminder, and the delicious sounding recipe! I’ve had quite a heavy eating week so some fresh seafood is definitely in order.

Terry B July 29, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Funny you should ask about Parmesan, Hannah! When we were eating this, Marion said it would be good with some Parmesan.

Laura—It really is an intriguing book. We’ve just gotten into it, but many of the recipes are quite promising.

Toni July 29, 2009 at 10:26 pm

Just the title of the book makes my mouth water. And this dish is exactly how I’m eating these days…..light, fresh, and easy. Isn’t summer grand?

Mellen July 30, 2009 at 12:31 am

What a gorgeous and enticing book cover! And what a lovely recipe (is it POSSIBLE to get enough seafood and pasta in the summer?).

I think the most memorable meal I ever had was in the seaport town of Anzio, Italy, where I ordered a simple linguine con vongole and was completely transported. I don’t think it consisted of anything more than good linguine, small insanely sweet clams, lemon juice, parsley, and amazingly fruity olive oil and salt and pepper. I nearly drowned in that dish.

Unfortunately, I’ve tried to recreate it many times, but it’s the clams, folks, it’s the clams. You just cannot get close to the quality of those tiny, sweet clams you find in various places in Europe (same with shrimp and langoustines, IMO, but that’s another story). Cherrystones, if they’re good-quality ones, are the closest you can get, and sometimes the exotic tiny ones you can find at Asian supermarkets, but it’s never exactly the same or as good.

On an other note, I’m a total bucatini convert these days and would try this recipe with that – not the really thick ones, but the ones that are big enough to catch the sauce inside the noodle. I love it when sauce is dripping from INSIDE the pasta as well as all around it.

Mellen July 30, 2009 at 12:36 am

I forgot to mention – Do I recognize that serving plate?

Allison July 30, 2009 at 5:57 am

This is one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. Check out her lasagna recipes, they are amazing. So glad you are highlighting such a standout cookbook.

Alta July 30, 2009 at 12:10 pm

This sounds amazing. A wonderful, simple dish. Agreed, it would be wonderful with a touch of Parmesan!

diva July 30, 2009 at 1:16 pm

i like this recipe a lot. the flavours are clean and i really like the pairing of almonds and capers. thanks for sharing! i can’t wait to whip this up for lunch some time this week :) x

Terry B July 30, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Toni—The photos and a number of the recipes in this book have the same Pavlovian effect. I do love summer cooking, but oddly, I sometimes find myself missing making and eating wintry stick-to-your-ribs meals during the summer.

Well, Mellen, I seem to recall the cherrystone clams in your bourride were quite tasty. Regarding the serving plate, this is a relative of the ones we bought when we were at DC’s Eastern Market flea market with you and Steve—we’ve had this one for quite a while. Speaking of those flea market finds, though, Marion looked them up on the Intertubes. They’re from the mid-1800s, and thanks to the marks on the underside, she was able to determine the exact date they were made! Perhaps she’ll chime in later with all the details, but suffice it to say we love Al Gore’s information superhighway.

Allison—We’ve only just started exploring Olives and Oranges, but we’re totally impressed—and amazed to discover it’s Jenkins’ first cookbook!

Alta—Yeah, we’re purists about some things. Mixing seafood and cheese in pasta dishes ain’t one of them.

Thanks, diva! Hope you like it.

Susan from Food Blogga August 1, 2009 at 1:32 am

I haven’t seen this one yet. Clearly, it’s one I should know. Thanks, Terry!

Hélène August 2, 2009 at 7:17 am

I’ve heard about the book but did not buy it yet. I should add it on my list. Looks delicious that meal.

White On Rice Couple August 4, 2009 at 7:45 am

You’ve captured perfect comfort in a bowl right here! Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe. Your blog is just beautiful!

Terry B August 4, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Susan—Seriously. I think this book is right up your alley.

Thanks, Hélène and White On Rice Couple! You both have such beautiful blogs that I feel quite honored by your comments.

Deb Toner July 14, 2010 at 1:26 pm

We will be heading to Maine in a week. I am in need of a dish that can be made aboard with little fuss and big flavors; this appears to be it! I was originally going to make Cioppino, but feared it would be too much of an undertaking in a tiny galley.

I am hoping to happen upon a plethora of fresh seafood dockside, do you think I could substitute or add other things to dish without bastardizing it?

What a wonderful find this blog has been.

Terry B July 14, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Deb—One of the wonderful things about dishes like this is that they invite substitutions and variations. Have fun with it! Sounds like a lovely trip you’ve got planned.

Deb Toner August 22, 2010 at 3:23 am

A followup on this — the galley was tiny, but the company was grand as were our meals. I used haddock, because that was what they had that had some “meat” to it.

I had printed out the recipe and used it as a shopping list once
I got to Maine. Everything was found with little effort.

As space abord the boat was limited, I decided to pare down what I carried on board. I left my purse [with assorted other goodies] at our friends house.

We had no sooner set sail before I realized that the recipe was still safely tucked into my purse!

I had to wing it but some how, it managed to turn out great! I decided, in order to speed up cooking [and save propane], to cut the filets into nugget sized pieces. This worked well and the end product met with positive results from all of the crew, from the captain to the swabees!

Thanks again, Terry.

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