It is Lucretia Borgia’s blond, brunette or even ginger curls’ fault for her connection to seafood tagliatelle (from the Italian tagliare=to cut) since legend has it that this particular kind of pasta was made in her honor in Bologna, in 1487.
As these tweaked stories come and go in the kitchen, with their accompanying recipes, it is time for me to add another (completely) impossible version! In keeping with common knowledge, the brazen, witty and cultivated Lucretia, snubbed the famous combination of fresh pasta with the amazing bolognese ragu sauce that was made for her by the great cuisine of Giovanni II – Giovanni II Bentivoglio, of the famous dynasty. She demanded that the new dish included the aquatic element of Volano, as she was preparing for her 3rd marriage in Ferrara. The tagliatelle with ragout sauce was withdrawn and in their place came the equally famous seafood tagliatelle.
Legends in the blender
Myths tend to cling to turbulent people even after death, as if congestion in these cases reveals character and receives nobility and charm. Or, the storytellers of every era are attracted more to the paradoxes when they make up imaginary narratives and don’t care the least about whether in creating the perfect mixture in their narrating blender they beat preceding and later centuries.
And so to prove it, the relevant story to the recipe b.P. (before Pandespani) is as follows: The illustrator Augusto Majani (1867-1959), from Bologna, had the inspiration in 1931 – about 400 years after the passing of the multitalented Lucretia Borgia –, to connect in his humorous drawings her unruly personality with tagliatelle.
Between 5 doodles and a couple lines of copy, the legend was born that the lady’s blonde hairdo was the occasion that tagliatelle were first made from some Mr. Zafirano – personal chef to Giovanni II Bentivoglio (ruler of Bologna until ousted by Pope Giulio II, former Cardinal to Pope Alessandro VI – father Borgia) when Lucretia was heading to marry the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso I d’Este.
Note that on top of that the poor girl had her karma with Alfonsos, as this was the second she married, since the unlucky first Alfonso – Prince of Biselie, was murdered by her jealous brother, Cesare Borgia. If what you’re thinking now is that the Borgias didn’t have it all in their notorious house and were missing the seafood tagliatelle or any other, well, you’re not wrong.
Tagliatelle, doodles and rhymes
It seems however that as much as the Borgias have inspired illustrators, including our very own Greek Arkas who created the famous series of Lucretia and Castrato, tagliatelle have similarly provided inspiration in the art family, including poetry and verismo (verismo, Italian postromantic school of music), if we accept as a sample the poem-recipe of Olindo Guerrini – writer and book lover – where he states:
“… In una sfoglia, ma non troppo fina
Uguale, soda e, sul taglier pulito,
Fatene tagliatelle larghe un dito.
Which, loosely translated means, “… into one sheet, not thin/ straight, clearly cut and tight,/ make tagliatelle like a finger(type) …”
What is tagliatelle in millimeters
Tagliatelle is a typical type of egg pasta, from central and northern Italy. In fact a model of the pasta in gold has officially been deposited (in 1072) at Bologna’s biotechnical and agricultural chamber of commerce by the Brotherhood of the Tortellini (Confraternita del tortellino) and the Academy of Italian cuisine along with the precise Bolognese recipe and it’s proportions, ie. 7mm wide uncooked and 8mm cooked, while thickness may range between 0.06mm and 0.08mm.
Apart from the Bolognese ragu, tagliatelle go with lots of meat and minced meat sauces, especially with game and in recipes where flavor needs to follow an expansionary strategy, meaning to be spread along pasta that has a relatively large surface and the ability to take some extra grated cheese.
The secret is hidden in the sauce
Their combination with seafood belongs to the most light and delicate of approaches. And here as well, the whole game depends on the stock with its taste being reinforced by the fish heads, prawn heads and the mussel juice. There is no better ground for a better taste performance than this.
Hence, the pasta cooks in this stock and ideally removed with the special pasta spoon without draining completely before being transferred to the prawn and tomato sauce.
Caution is needed when it comes to timing, so they remain al dente, given that all egg pasta need less time to cook (see also the ‘about pasta’) and “after a certain boiling point, they are [only good] to throw away” as Olindo Guerrini states in his rhyming ditty («…se passa il punto di cottura/Diventan pappa molle, porcheria,/Insomma roba da buttarla via….»).
So whilst the crucial boiling is happening, sacrifice those roughly 3 minutes and stay near to the pot.
Seafood tagliatelle is a very tasty recipe, with great impact even in a group of people who stated they didn’t eat seafood with pasta or in any other combination.
Seafood tagliatelle – the recipe
Preparation: About 1 hour. The broth and sauce can be made earlier or even the previous day. Keep it in the fridge. The mussels and prawns must be cooked on the same day. If you use two spacious pots from the start (large enough to fit all your ingredients) you will have less washing up to do later. Medium difficulty. Follow the fool proof steps.
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
3-4 heads of medium size fish (e.g. sea bream, sea bass, mullet, bream etc.)
700 g mussels
500 g medium size prawns
500 g tagliatelle (1 pkt)
1 bay leaf
5 ripe tomatoes, peeled and cubed
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 onion, quartered
5 tbs olive oil
100 ml white wine
leaves from 2-3 thyme branches
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbs very finely chopped parsley- for garnish
To prepare the prawns: Clean by removing the heads and shells, by cutting along the length of the tail with a sharp knife or scissors. Keep the tails in a separate bowl. Take out the black line running along the tail and the stomach.
Put the heads and shells in a pot and boil with the fish heads, the bay leaf, onion and 1.2lt water, for 30 minutes. Once boiling, cover with a lid and lower heat.
Strain broth through a sieve into a bowl, pushing the shells to get as much juice as possible. Keep the broth in a large pot (as this will be used to cook the tagliatelle) and discard the rest.
To prepare the mussels: In the same pot, heat the wine till boiling (medium heat) and add the mussels. Cover and boil for 3-4 minutes.
Remove the mussels with a slotted spoon, discarding any that remain closed. Place them in a bowl and add a little coarse salt and pepper. Then strain this broth into the bowl with the shrimp broth – keeping 1 cup separately on the side for later.
To make the sauce: In the same pot again, on medium heat, add the olive oil and garlic. Sauté for 1 min – do not allow to darken. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, thyme and allow to slow cook for 15-20 mins until the sauce thickens.
Preparing the tagliatelle pasta: Boil the broth that was kept in the bowl, adding extra water for the boiling of pasta – 1lt at least- and salt.
Boil the tagliatelle until al dente – usually 1-1 ½ mins less than usual.
Finishing the seafood tagliatelle: Meanwhile, add the cleaned shrimp to the tomato sauce and cook for further 2 mins, stirring occasionally. Remove or strain pasta and add to shrimp tomato sauce. Add the mussels and stir adding extra broth from the cup if needed.
To serve: Transfer the seafood tagliatelle to a warmed plate and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve immediately.