The Southern Italian Table by Arthur Schwartz, includes recipes like Lobster Broth with Broken Spaghetti, Broda di Aragosto can Spaghetti Ruoti; Sautéed Peppers with Olives and Capers, Peperoni Saltate con Olive e Capperi; and Grilled Pancetta or Pork on Spring Onions, Stigghiole di Pancetta.
This tastes like so much more than it is, which is merely lobster cooked in tomato broth prepared with tomato puree, onion, and a bay leaf. It is an old time, standard dish on the west coast of Sicily. Broken spaghetti—ruoti is the preferred local word for "broken"—is a standard addition, but you could use other pasta. Some recipes have you flavor the broth with garlic, and some use peperoncino, hot red pepper, instead of black. You decide. Torn leaves of basil can be added just before serving.
In a pot that will accommodate the disjointed lobster, heat the olive oil over medium heat and saute the onion until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato puree and 3 cups of water, using some of the water to rinse the can or bottle in which the puree was packed. Add the bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer and let cook gently for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, with a very sharp knife, kill the lobster by putting the point of the knife into the head between the eyes. Use the knife to chop off the claws.
Increase the heat so the soup boils. Add the lobster. Cook for about 12 minutes from the time it is added. It should be just cooked through. Remove it from the soup with tongs, letting it drain into the soup.
Once the lobster is cool enough to handle, crack it open and remove all the meat from the body and claws. Cut it into pieces no bigger than you would want to spoon up. Discard the shells and innards.
If preparing ahead, put the lobster in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the soup and the lobster meat.
At serving time, reheat the broth and boil the spaghetti in plenty of well-salted water. When the pasta is almost cooked but still a little too firm to eat, drain it well.
Add the separately cooked and drained broken spaghetti and the lobster pieces to the simmering soup. Turn down the heat and simmer very gently until the pasta is tender enough to eat, or even a little softer than you'd eat a sauced pasta dish.
Serve very hot, garnished with torn basil, if desired.
Just the sound of the words spaghetti spezzati, "broken spaghetti"—never mind the actual food—has nostalgic sentiment for Southern Italians. Then, there's the music made by pasta being popped into pieces in a clean dish towel. It's enough to make almost any Italian over 30 launch into memories of mamma or nona (grandma) or a lovely old aunt whose kitchen always smelled of ragu or minestra.
Broken spaghetti was a food of necessity in the Southern Italians impoverished past, when nothing was wasted, not even a few millimeters of macaroni. In the old days, it might have been gleaned from the bottom of the barrel. The grocer could not charge the same for bottom-of-the-barrel broken pieces as he did for all strands. And even today, the pasta factories of Gragnano (and I suppose elsewhere) are happy to sell, at a serious cut rate, what remains after they've neatly cut the pasta to fit into modern boxes. Some pasta factories also donate these remains to nursing homes and hospitals.
Mother or Grandmother herself may have broken the spaghetti to serve it in broth (see pages 79 and 80 of the book), with beans or lentils (see pages 106 and 109) or with any of the vegetables frequently prepared with pasta such as squash (see pages 120) and potatoes (see pages 114) combined with other pasta shapes, broken spaghetti is also featured today in packages of pasta mista, "mixed shapes."
Breaking spaghetti is fun, too: wrap the pasta in a clean dish towel so it doesn't pop all over the kitchen. Holding one end of the pasta down on the work surface, break it by pressing down every couple of inches.
This page created May 2010
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