Linguine al Nero di Seppia

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***I was much interested, on several occasions, by watching the habits of an Octopus or cuttle-fish … they darted tail first, with the rapidity of an arrow, from one side of the pool to the other, at the same instant discolouring the water with a dark chestnut-brown ink.***
Charles Darwin

Basics needed: How to cook pasta

Cuttlefish is a mollusc (and not a fish like the English would suggest) that belongs to the class Cephalopoda, order Sepiidae (which has a common root with the Italian name, Seppia).

The class Cephalopoda includes also octopus and squid, and these molluscs all share an escape mechanism they use when they are attacked: they release a black pigment from their ink sack, which makes the water cloudy, confusing the predator and giving them enough time to jet away.

Of the three Cephalopoda I mentioned, cuttlefish is the one with the largest ink sack, and this is something with very interesting applications in cooking, as it can be used as a food colouring, like in this recipe.
Nero di Seppia, in fact, means cuttlefish ink (‘cuttlefish black’ would actually be the literal translation), and it is used as the main ingredient of a pasta sauce in coastal areas of Italy; it can also be used for Risotto, which is similar to the Spanish Arroz Negro (which means, literally, ‘Black Rice’)

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INGREDIENTS (serves four)
500 g cuttlefish (1 large or 2 small), cleaned, keeping the ink sac
1 tbsp white onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 anchovy fillets

1 tbsp tomato paste
100 ml (1/2 glass) dry white wine
2 tbsp. Nam Pla (Thai fish sauce)*
1 tsp. white sugar
Cayenne pepper, to taste (optional but recommended)
Parsley, finely chopped

*: Optional (if not using, adjust the seasoning accordingly)
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  1. Clean the cuttlefish (or have the fishmonger do it for you): remove the cuttlebone, skin and internal organs, making sure you keep the ink sac (see below), then remove the eyes and mouth
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  2. Using a sharp knife score the head of the cuttlefish on the diagonal and then at 90 degrees, to create a criss-cross patter (score the inside as it is softer and easier). NOTE: this is not strictly necessary but will give a better result
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  4. Cut the cuttlefish in fairly small peaces as below:
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  5. Sweat the onion in olive oil for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and the anchovies, and the chilli if using it
  6. When the anchovies have dissolved into the oil, add the cuttlefish; it will start releasing its water: cook on a gentle heat until the water has almost completely evaporated
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  7. Mix the tomato paste, white wine, sugar and Nam Pla with 250 ml water and add to the pan
  8. Bring to the boil and add the ink sac, then simmer until it is reduced by half
  9. Cook your spaghetti till al dente (see How to cook pasta )

Spaghetti ai Cannolicchi (Spaghetti with Razor Clams)

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INGREDIENTS (4 people)

360g spaghetti (or linguine)
12 razor clams
16 cherry tomatoes
3 anchovy fillets
100 ml dry white wine (optional)
1 tbsp. finely chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
Finely chopped parsley
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Basic Techniques needed:
Razor Clams
How to cook pastaIf you are able to find razor clams (you will need to ask a real fishmonger, it’s not something you will find in a UK supermarket), this is a very quick and simply seafood pasta recipe that will not fail to impress your guests.

First, get organised:
Chop the onion (see How to chop an onion in Basics), mince the garlic and chop the parsley

When everything is ready, you can start cooking:

  1. Prepare the razor clams as below (see Razor Clams for details):
    Rinse them in running water
  2. Put them in a pan with a splash of water and cover
    Cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes until the shells open up
    Once opened, discard the dark sac you will find in the middle of the clam
    Filter the liquid they have released as you will use it in your recipe
    Cut them in 1-inch pieces and then lengthwise
  3. Peel the tomatoes: prick their skin with the tip of a knife and plunge them into the bolilng water in the pot you will use for the pasta, then put them in a bowl filled with cold (better iced) water;
  4. Sweat the onion in 2 tbsp. olive oil for 4 minutes
  5. Add the garlic and the anchovy fillets and keep cooking on low heat
  6. When the anchovy fillets have dissolved into the oil, add the liquid from the clams and 100 ml water or white wine if using it;
  7. Peel the tomatoes, quarter them and add them to the sauce; cook on low heat
  8. When the liquid has reduced to 1/3, add the razor clams
  9. Cook the pasta in plenty of salty water (see How to cook pasta)
  10. Add the sauce to the cooked pasta, sprinkle with finely chopped parsley and serve
    TIP: instead of cooking the pasta completely, drain it a couple of minutes before the cooking time indicated on the packaging and finish it off with the sauce, adding a few tbsp. of its cooking water to prevent it form becoming too dry; the pasta will absorb all the flavours