Baked Chiocciole & Cheese with Crab, Chanterelles & Saffron

Pasta, Seafood

Baked Chiocciole 01

On a frosty day last week, I went to the Puget Sound and trapped two red rock crabs. They are smaller than the Dungeness crabs, more aggressive, thicker shelled and offer less meat. But, let me tell you… That meat…

Up here in the Pacific Northwest, crabbers are divided about which is the superior meat. Though I’ll refuse neither, I find myself quite happy when I pull up a red rock crab. Its meat is so much sweeter and more fragrant than the Dungeness. Yes, one must work harder and catch more of them, but when those shells are picked through and that moist meat is extracted, what is left is an unmatched, concentrated crab flavor base.

Paired with savory, seasonal chanterelle mushrooms, aged manchego sheep cheese, and fragrant saffron, this baked pasta dish is rich yet light, elegant yet simple, and altogether irresistible.

I will not go into killing, cooking, or cleaning crabs here. I’ll save that for later. For this, you can easily substitute Dungeness crab meat for this recipe, as it is commercially available and fairly easy to come by, at least up here.

Baked Chiocciole 03

Prepare the Base

  • 200 g. chiocciole pasta, dried (or macaroni or penne)
  • 75 g. Dungeness crab meat (about 1/3 cup)
  • 65 g. fresh chanterelle mushrooms, julienned (about a cup)

Boil the pasta in plenty of salted water until al dente. Drain. In a casserole dish, mix in the pasta, crab meat and fresh chanterelle mushrooms.

Prepare the Sauce

  • 1-2/3 cup whole milk
  • 65 g. gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 35 g. manchego cheese, shredded
  • 20 g. butter
  • 20 g. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. saffron threads
  • 5-6 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves only
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, coarsely ground, to taste

In a sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour. Stir together, cooking the roux for a couple minutes. Drizzle in the milk, stirring frequently. Allow the sauce to come up to a simmer. Stir to prevent sticking, paying especial attention to the bottom.

After it has thickened, slowly add and stir in the cheeses, then the saffron, thyme, sea salt and black pepper. The sauce should be creamy, not too thick, fragrant and peck the tongue upon tasting.

After everything has been mixed, pour into the pasta, crab and chanterelles. Mix.

Bake & Complete

  • Casserole base mixed with sauce
  • 30 g. bread crumbs

Cover the top with bread crumbs. Bake casserole in a 400 F preheated oven, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes, or until browned and bubbly.

Remove and let stand a couple minutes. Cut, plate, and serve. Alternatively, you may bake the casserole portioned out into ramekins so as to produce individual servings.

Baked Chiocciole 02

Photos by Lori Paulson

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