Spaghetti al Farouk: Abruzzo circa 1975

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I’m pretty sure it was my dad who ordered the Spaghetti al Farouk at that restaurant on the beach. It was like nothing we’d ever had before—silky noodles tossed with fresh Adriatic seafood and cloaked in a creamy, golden saffron- and curry-laced sauce that was spiked with ginger.

This was a long time ago, more than 30 years—probably closer to 35—and many of the details are now lost, including which ingredients, exactly, comprised the original dish, as well as the name and even the location of the restaurant. That’s what it’s like sometimes when you delve into an old memory. You find it’s really not much more than a shadow.

I could have sworn that the restaurant was on the outskirts of Pescara, a port city on the coast of Abruzzo (you can see the beautiful blue Adriatic in the distance in the photo above) near the beach town where we spent our summers. My mother, however, insists it was in nearby Francavilla, and I must defer to her on this, since she is an Abruzzo native. I don’t suppose that detail matters anymore, though I like to think that the restaurant—in my memory a casual and boisterous place—is still around, serving up platters of Farouk.

I do remember that mussels were in the mix, as well as shrimp with their heads and shells still on, and pannocchie, which are something like crayfish or tiny lobsters. The platter that came to the table was alive with color—deep yellow from the curry and saffron, and bright orange and red from the shellfish, with splashes of glossy black from the mussel shells. The sauce was rich, spicy, and earthy; the seafood was briny and sweet.

The idea of adding curry or ginger to an Italian pasta sauce no longer strikes me as unusual—in fact it makes perfect sense if you think about it, about the many cultures that have passed through Italy through the ages, leaving their mark on the landscape, in the language, at the table. But back then it really did seem out of the ordinary. And I wonder, now, about the chef who created this fanciful dish, named for the deposed king of Egypt who fled to Italy in 1952.

I knew from the moment I began working on The Glorious Pasta of Italy that I wanted to include a recipe for Spaghetti al Farouk. If I had only my sketchy memory to rely on, I might not have been able to do it justice. Luckily, I had my mom. When we returned home at the end of that long ago summer, my mother recreated the dish in her kitchen, adding shrimp and mussels, and substituting scallops for the Adriatic seafood she could not get here. She seasoned the creamy sauce with ground ginger, thyme, and bay leaf, and enriched it with egg yolks. We all pronounced it as good as the original.

I’ve made minimal changes to it over the years, taking out the egg yolks to lighten the sauce a bit, and changing the selection of seafood every so often. To be honest, I have no idea how close to the original my version is, though I can say it is authentic in spirit. And I can also tell you that, to a person, everyone I’ve ever made this for has fallen for it. It really is a sauce like no other.

I think of myself a curator of sorts, of obscure and endangered recipes—recipes that, I worry, might vanish completely if I didn’t shine a light on them. There are a number of these in The Glorious Pasta of Italy, and Spaghetti al Farouk is one of them. It makes me immensely, ridiculously, happy to know that this recipe from the coast of Abruzzo circa 1975 has found a new home in the 21st Century, in my book, here on my blog, and, I hope, in your kitchen. 

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Spaghetti al Farouk

From The Glorious Pasta of Italy (Chronicle Books, 2011)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • Large pinch of saffron threads, pounded to a powder
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder (preferably spicy)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 pound dried spaghetti
  • 12 mussels, well scrubbed and debearded if necessary
  • 16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 6 ounces frozen shelled cooked langoustine tails (see Cook's Note)

Instructions

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously.

In a frying pan large enough to hold all of the seafood, warm the olive oil and butter over medium heat. When the butter is melted and begins to sizzle, add the onion and stir to coat with the oil and butter. Saute, stirring frequently, for about 7 minutes, or until the onion is softened but not browned. Stir in the saffron, curry powder, ginger, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and a generous grind of pepper, taking care to incorporate all of the herbs and spices. Stir in the lemon juice, raise the heat to medium-high, and pour in the wine. Let the sauce simmer briskly for about 3 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the cream. Bring the sauce back to a very gentle simmer. If the pasta water is not yet boiling, reduce the heat under the sauce to low and wait until the pasta boils.

Add the pasta to the boiling water, stir to separate the noodles, and cook according to the manufacturer's instructions until al dente. Once the pasta is in the water, proceed with finishing the sauce.

Add the mussels, shrimp, and langoustine tails to the simmering sauce, cover, and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the mussels open, the shrimp are just cooked through, and the langoustine tails are heated through. Discard any mussels that don't open.

Drain the pasta into a colander set in the sink, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water. If the frying pan is large enough to contain both the pasta and the sauce, add the pasta to the frying pan and gently toss the pasta and sauce to combine thoroughly, adding a splash or two of the cooking water if necessary to loosen the sauce. If the frying pan is not large enough, return the pasta to the pot, add about two-thirds of the sauce, toss to combine thoroughly, and then top with the remaining sauce when serving. Transfer the dressed pasta to a warmed serving bowl or shallow individual bowls. If you are preparing individual servings, be sure to divide the seafood evenly among them. Sere immediately.

Cook's Note: Much of the shellfish available these days is farm raised and therefore contains less dirt and grit than shellfish harvested from the wild. To clean mussels, scrub their shells with a stiff brush under cold running water. Discard any that do not close tightly when handled. If the mussels have beards, the fibrous tufts they use to hold on to pilings and rocks, you need to remove them. Using a towel or just bare fingers, grasp the beard gently but firmly and yank it toward the shell's hinge. This will remove the fibers without tearing the mussel meat.

Frozen langoustine tails lack the flavor of fresh ones, but they are much more readily available and they have a nice meaty texture that captures the sauce and absorbs its flavor. If you like, you can use wild rock shrimp instead. They are delicious, though more expensive.

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23 Responses to Spaghetti al Farouk: Abruzzo circa 1975

  1. janie June 17, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    I cannot wait to make this dish-it sounds so great. You photo is gorgeous too. I have got to get your book since I have your other ones and know how wonderful they are!

    • Domenica June 17, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

      Thanks Janie. I’ve never encountered a sauce like it. Wish I could remember the restaurant where I first had it…I think you’ll like the book. It’s my first hardcover! Cheers

  2. Chef Chuck June 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

    I really enjoyed your book trailer! Your are a Pasta Connoisseur…
    Grazie, Grazie 🙂

    • Domenica June 17, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

      Thanks so much, Chuck. A good friend of mine who is a cinematographer did the trailer. I think she did a wonderful job. So glad you took a look. Cheers

  3. Barbara | Creative Culinary June 17, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    Sounds absolutely amazing Domenica and I love your sharing the memory too. I knew there would soon be a good reason to use that little bit of saffron I have in my spice cupboard!

    • Domenica June 17, 2011 at 8:29 pm #

      Thanks, Barb! I love saffron, Barb, even though it is prohibitively expensive. It’s worth the indulgence, every now and again.

  4. Alicia Sokol June 17, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    I love the stories that go with the dishes. And this looks gorgeous! I’m planning to try my first recipe out of your book this week (the pasta with the summer squash you used to make when your kids wanted boxed mac and cheese). I’ll report back! Thanks for your thoughtful post.

    • Domenica June 17, 2011 at 9:45 pm #

      Thank you, Alicia. Let me know how it turns out. BTW, I just was over visiting your site. I love it. It is gorgeous, and full of great information on eating well. Keep up the great work.

  5. Nancy Baggett June 20, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    The photo is lovely and the dish sounds heavenly. But how could anybody NOT love a dish with mussels, shrimp, langoustine tails, curry and cream!? My stomach is growling!

  6. Domenica June 20, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    Thank you, Nancy. We need to get together for dinner one day soon. I’ll bring the pasta; you bring dessert! ; )

  7. Judy@Savoring Today June 26, 2011 at 11:03 am #

    I discovered your recipe on Simple Italy and decided to post it for Test Kitchen Tuesday on Savoring Today, where I invite readers to test and review new recipes.

    Wow, I don’t know how it could get much better; enjoyed this dish last night with friends, outside on the deck, and it received RAVE reviews from everyone. Thanks so much for sharing your recipes and your memories 🙂 It was delicious, a great discovery.

    • Domenica June 26, 2011 at 11:16 am #

      Judy, thanks so much for your comment. This is one of my favorite recipes in The Glorious Pasta of Italy and it thrills me that others seem to like it as much as I do. Cheers

  8. Toby July 12, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    Domenica – da dove viene tua Mamma? My wife and I have many friends in Abruzzo – infact, we were lucky enough to buy a house out there a little over a year ago. In Vasto (our nearest city) they do a similar thing to the dish above, but it has many more types of fish in and is more of a Zuppa – although at €24, fortunately, it’s a meal in itself!

    Can’t wait to get back out there!

    baci,

    Toby.

    • Domenica July 12, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

      Salve Toby. Thanks for writing. My mom was born and raised in Chieti, and we spent our summers in Silvi Marina when I was growing up. The dish from Vasto sounds wonderful. It sounds like I have more research to do to get to the bottom of the story of Spaghetti alla Farouk. do you happen to remember the name of the restaurant in Vasto where you had it? Grazie!

  9. elisa September 25, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    Ciao Domenica,
    maybe I might help with the restaurant you visited long ago. There is an historical restaurant in “Francavilla al Mare called “La Nave” where I ate about 10 years ago, and yes they still are in the same location and they still serve spaghetti al Farouk. Could that be your place?

  10. Mario December 28, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    I remember this fish restaurant called “La Nave” : it was just on the beach side in the center of Francavilla al mare where we spent our summer a (very) ling time ago( 70’s – 80’s). With my family ( parents, cousins, uncles, aunts and friends…) we used to go there at least once a year during our holyday. Although they cooked very well any kind of mediterranean sea food and fishes, their reputation came from their Pasta Faruk, famous in the all area of Pescara. As far as I remember, they used spaghetti “alla chitarra”, fresh spaghetti with squared section. They gave the recipe to my mother and we have enjoyed it at home for years. This restaurant still exists but I was told that it is not any more what it used to be…

    • Domenica December 28, 2011 at 8:06 pm #

      Mario, you are right. The restaurant was indeed called La Nave. After I wrote this post, I heard from another person who had been there, and she reminded me of the name. It sounds like you used to go during the very same period that my family and I went there. It makes perfect sense that the restaurant used spaghetti alla chitarra. That is what I’m going to use the next time I make it. I’m sorry to hear that it is no longer the same place, but I suppose that would have been too much to ask for…Magari! Many thanks for writing. Buon Anno!

  11. Fabio March 24, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    Hi Domenica,
    I’m from Pescara and just today I was talking with some people about these famous Spaghetti Farouk, and I immediately search on goggle for it, and I found this article; the people I talked with said that the restaurant was “Casa mia”, could it be?

    • Domenica March 24, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

      Salve Fabio,
      Thank you for your comment. Where is Casa Mia? Another reader from Abruzzo said that it could be La Nave, a name that I recognize. But I can’t be sure…sono passati troppo anni 🙂

      • Fabio April 5, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

        CasaMia was in Francavilla too… but now it has changed its name and I don’t know the new one…
        Anyway thanks for this article, it’s great!

  12. Raun August 3, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    I had it in Pescara, and I still dream about it

  13. max November 2, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

    mi dispiace contraddirti, ma in quel piatto non ci vanno le mazzancolle, come non ci vanno nemmeno le cozze…ma solo dei gamberetti sgusciati

    • Domenica Marchetti November 3, 2013 at 9:25 am #

      Figurati Max, sono contenta per il tuo commento. Sono passati tantissimi anni da quando ho mangiato i spaghetti alla farouk in Abruzzo. Non mi ricordavo neanche il ristorante dove l’abbiamo mangiato però qualcuno ha suggerito La Nave. Mia mamma ha cercato di farlo quando siamo tornati a casa ma siccome la frutta di mare qui è diverso e ha dovuto reinventare un po’ la ricetta. Comunque è buonissimo anche con le cozze.

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