Small Price, Big Flavor: Penne with scampi without the scampi



….long sigh. Tough times, lots of people around Italy and elsewhere don’t have much cash, ‘no tengo dinero’, not in small part because a very few people have so much…. they don’t really know what to do with. Except waste it buying symbolic stuff absurdly priced from other rich people, you know, another 15 million apartment in one of those dying downtowns, Manhattan, London, Rome, other places, or the Swiss chalet, the beach house in Santorini, the country Villa in the Cotswolds. Eames chairs (everybody has an Eames,) expensive escorts sometimes becoming 2nd or third wives (for male senior executives,) Bentleys, Ossetra, 3-starred eateries (that sometimes don’t merit even a single… asteroid.) People of the crowd whose names you might find in the Panama papers, men and women who seriously use ‘fiscal optimization’ like little Orwellian pigs. We used to call it more directly: tax cheaters… but that’s a notion that doesn’t fit so well. Not only for the number of zero involved (000,000,00…) It’s gone well beyond mere cheating. Creative refusal, one could say kindly, or less so: creative accounting for criminals. Or, more simply: ass-holes.

Combined with the dwindling amount of wild fish remaining in our over-heated, acidifying oceans and seas… have made quality sea-food, some kinds anyway, a bonafide luxury. Scampi, all-in-all, is still my overall favorite. Best if Mediterranean, sweetest-most intense aftertaste if from the Adriatic, not bad from the Atlantic either (North. Those Argentinian beasts you often find in the supermarket aren’t bad but… it’s like comparing dry-aged Chianina or excellent Black Angus to a generic t-bone.) The best way after all is done and said to make them: split’em open, ev olive oil, salt and pepper lightly, hot grill, 2 minutes per side, maybe some toasted good bread rubbed with garlic and dribbled with fresh oil, a beer, lively red or half and half (half wine, half bitter lemon soda,) and ahhhh. On a daily basis… as good as Ossetra with red potato blini and sour cream. Better, maybe, depending on context. But.

They’ll also richly flavor a tomato sauce for a delightful pasta. And if you find the small ones fresh that’s still not a plate which will dent your liver (as in having to sell a piece of it to buy the stuff.) However a lot of fish sellers don’t even bother carrying them anymore, if you live downtown or in the suburbs, preferring to cater to those Eames chair clients. Only big and perfect and reaaally expensive. not only denting your liver but costing one of your kidneys to boot. (By the way, scampi should always still be kicking, or clasping, when you buy them fresh – or don’t bother. If you’re squeamish… don’t look. Set them in the freezer for about 30-45 minutes before cleaning and splitting. Or go buy a fish sandwich at McDonalds.)
If it’s getting near the end of the month and you haven’t the way to buy some fresh scampi nor the will to go get tango-scampis, this is weird dish that weirdly mimics, albeit distantly, like a shadow at mid-day pasta with scampi. Weirdly, the finished results really do remind of scampi.

Penne with scampi without the scampi


  • EV olive oil
  • 180 grams linguini or penne
  • 1 tin of good tuna ventresca under oil
  • 1 anchovy filet under oil
  • 2 cloves of red garlic
  • 6-8 leaves of sweet basil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 tbsp small capers
  • 1 pinch fish soup powder
  • 1 pinch ground hot pepper
  • 2 medium sized vine-ripened tomatoes
  • 6-8 ripe cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp grated lemon rind
  • 1 cup good dry white wine


  • Put the pot of salted water on to boil in back for the spaghetti.
  • Flavor a tablespoon or two of oil in medium-low heat with the garlic, remove garlic
  • After crushing or loosely dicing the tomatoes add half into the pan, salt and pepper, raise heat to medium
  • Cook for about 4-5 minutes
  • Add the rest of the tomatoes and fish powder, cook for 2-3 minutes
  • Add the anchovy and diced capers, about a tablespoon full, mix and break the fish up into the sauce once it's heated a bit.
  • Add the wine, stir and let evaporate about a minute (raising the heat 30 seconds or so)
  • Add the hot pepper, diced fresh or a pinch of powder. Now check for salt and adjust
  • Add the canned tuna ventresca.
  • Stir, then turn off the heat after a minute or so and immediately add a few leaves, 6-7, of loosely shredded basil
  • Once the pasta is ready al dente, drain and transfer into the sauce pan
  • Toss well, then add the lemon rind freshly grated and a finish off with a dash or two of fresh olive oil.
  • Of course, feel free to change ingredients or kick it up a notch to taste: parsley instead of basil, comfit the tomatoes, etc.
  • Plate and serve with a good chilled white

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