Crab and Arugula Pizza

Pizza, Seafood

crab arugula pizza 05

When I was a boy, my dad boycotted the local pizza delivery chain. I don’t remember why, but it lasted for years. Maybe he felt slighted or overcharged. Whatever it was, the boycott created some problems for us.

First, we weren’t the type of family to make their own pizza. Also, we didn’t stop eating it. No, our demand was too high. My brother and I would have colluded against him and started a mutiny. Pizza was that important. And, lastly, pizza was one of those dinners that forced us to eat together. We couldn’t take our portions and run off. All of us had to sit around the thing, usually with a rental video playing, and devour it slice by slice. It was sort of a cohesive.

The endearing thing about pizza is that many of us have some emotion attached to it, some memory that resurfaces at its baked aroma, or some colorful association to a brand or look.

See, we took pizza seriously. My dad, a Jersey boy, imported his East Coast pizza idealism, and stuck hard to it:

NO PINEAPPLE! Period. End of story. He said that fruit didn’t belong on pizza. (Maybe the pizza chain accidentally sent us a Hawaiian?)

THIN CRUST, THIN CRUST! No one should ever deign to eat pizza with a fork. Never.

ANCHOVIES! And lots of them. It’s called flavor, kids.

The only trouble was, in the suburban area we lived, thousands of miles from real pizza pies, most people wanted the exact opposite. There was one pizzeria (I’ll never forget the “NO PINEAPPLE SERVED HERE” sign and the uncompromising New York owner), but it moved far, far away.

We jumped around from one mediocre pizzeria to the other. When we were really lucky, we traveled to the city to have traditional thin crust. I don’t know whether I preferred that to the commercial, conveyor-belt-oven pizza, but I admired my dad’s enthusiasm.

I never questioned his stalwart tastes, but now I understand them more. He had his own attachments. Memories of his own boyhood, of folding slices of pizza and scarfing them down with friends and family. Pizza, a circle, is beautiful and simply communal, and the larger the pie, the greater the community that can share it.

This pizza is a moment between my girlfriend and me, it’s a memory with my family, it’s the memory of my father, and of my mother with her parents, it’s the memory of my brother, of all of our endless memories of pizza and crab.

And now here I am, about to share a recipe, thinking of these memories, coming full-circle myself. Why is food so dear? It’s always, always a little bit of discovery and recollection, isn’t it?

I wanted to write a more succinct and useful introduction. But all you get is this verbiage. If you decide to boycott me, at least this time I’ll know why.

Cascadian Crab Boil

Meat, Seafood

When it comes to food, I usually take it in strides. Most days I’m whimsical. I cook whatever I have laying around the kitchen mixed with some seasonal vegetables. Sometimes, I’m not so decisive and I can’t even figure out what to eat for dinner, and I spend yet another night with a big bowl of popcorn.

But crab is an exception. I look forward to the crab season every year. It’s one of those foods so marinated in nostalgia that no adulterant or flavor could conceal its triggers: the briny aroma of the Puget Sound on an early morning, the pink-orange sun rising over blackish Olympic Mountains, severing white-grey cloud-wisps; the jubilee and cramps and cold, wet fingers while reeling up the crab pots, in anxious hope of trapping a treasure; and, the jitters and eagerness in maneuvering around the claws to get the crab at just the perfect angle so as to clench it, jiggle it out, and drop it in the cooler.

Crabbing isn’t only my tradition, though. It’s a tradition of this whole region called Cascadia. We have festivals for them in towns small and large. We serve them from aerated tanks at supermarkets, on ice from the farmers markets, and on a plate or in a bowl at restaurants. But the most memorable way for me, and for many others, is scattered on newspaper with lots of butter and lemons.

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.