Saturday, 23 July 2011

Marcello's Spaghetti alla chitarra with courgettes and prawns

Fresh juicy prawns and a saffron stock - the keys to this dish

The best dish of a weekend in Bologna in October 2009:

‘This is tough’, I wrote then. ‘The gnocchi at Melloncello, the tortellini at Godot Wine Bar, the guinea fowl at Valsellucro, the mortadella lasagne at Caffe Concerto: these all rate highly. But ultimately, the prize for best dish of the weekend goes to the Locanda del Castello at Palazzo Rosso, Sasso Marconi for spaghetti alla chitarra with courgettes and prawns. Marcello dall’Aglio says that the key to the dish is the prawn stock and the saffron which holds everything together. Everything was just right and perfectly balanced: the tiny cubes of grilled courgette and the plump juicy prawns. Is it Bolognese – yes, of course, fresh water fish have long been a part of the tradition. And to complete the pleasure, the spaghetti came with a glass of Tenuta Bonzara’s reserve merlot, a revelation if you are underwhelmed by merlot like the two guys in Sideways’.

That was nearly two years ago. Since then, I’ve had the same dish on every visit to the Locanda. It’s an understated Italian classic, depending on a few choice ingredients artfully combined. It seems to work by sleight of hand but every element makes its contribution: fresh, quickly cooked prawns, garden fresh courgette, the best olive oil and above all the stock. This must be deeply flavoured and it should be combined with a small amount of fresh breadcrumbs to give it body. Spaghetti alla chitarra is right for this dish but linguine is almost as good and easier to get hold of.


1 onion

1 ½ cloves of garlic

6tbl good olive oil

100g fresh tomatoes

pinch saffron

25g chopped parsley

4 bay leaves

2 courgettes

250g uncooked, peeled tiger prawns – fresh or frozen

50g white breadcrumbs


1. Begin by making the stock. Remove the heads and carcases from the prawns.  Fry the onion and one clove of garlic in 3 tablespoons of olive oil until they soften and begin to colour then add the prawn carcases and contain to fry. After a few minutes add the tomato, saffron, half the parsley and bay leaves, and half a litre of water and bring to the boil. Cook hard for 20 minutes and then strain the mixture into a bowl, using a spoon to push the liquor through a sieve. You should have about 300ml of stock.

2. Chop the courgettes into small matchsticks or cubes  and fry them fast in the remaining olive oil until they begin to brown. Set aside.

3. Remove from the pan and add the prawns and half a garlic clove finely chopped. Fry until the prawns are pink all over. Set aside.

4. Put the linguine on to boil in salted water. It will take about 12 minutes to reach al dente. As the pasta is coming up to being cooked, re-heat the pan used to fry the prawns, add a spot more olive oil and add the breadcrumbs. Fry them, gathering up all the pan juices as you do so. Then add the stock and cook until you have a smooth sauce.

5. Drain the pasta, add in the sauce and use it to coat the linguine. Then add back the prawns and courgettes and briefly re-heat, finally adding the finely chopped parsley.

6. Serve.

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