Colorful frutti di mare is a crowd-pleaser for holiday meals

Intro by Pam George  |  Photograph by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
From the Holiday 2018 issue


As the holidays approach, many Italian-Americans along the coast are planning the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a traditional Christmas Eve meal. But ask Francesco Agostino, a native of Italy, about the meatless feast and you’ll get a puzzled look. “I’ve never heard of it,” says Agostino, the chef at Azzurro Italian Oven and Bar in Rehoboth Beach, which he owns with wife Tonya.

Perhaps that’s because Agostino comes from Turin in northern Italy, and the feast — also known as La Vigilia (“The Vigil”) — is a southern Italy inspiration. Though unfamiliar with that meal, he is well acquainted with seafood. There are meat dishes on his Azzurro menu, but seafood is the star.

The couple chose Rehoboth Beach for the restaurant’s location because it reminds them of walkable beach towns in Italy. They selected the 19th-century building — best remembered as the former home of Chez la Mer — for its character. “We didn’t want anything modern,” he says.

“Azzurro” is Italian for a shade of blue, much like the color of a cloudless sky or the Mediterranean Sea. Not surprisingly, Agostino is influenced by Italian flavors and ingredients, but you won’t find heavy chicken parmesan covered with sauce or cheese at Azzurro. The dish frutti di mare — which means “seafood” in Italian — is the “best representation of our restaurant,” he says.

If you are planning to host the Feast of the Seven Fishes, you can cover a lot of bases with this recipe. There are many variations, and you can use the shellfish of your choice. For this recipe, you will need to cook the lobsters in advance.


Spaghetti Frutti di Mare
(serves 4)

3         tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
12       small clams, such as Manila or littleneck, scrubbed
4         garlic cloves, minced
3         tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
2         chopped fresh chili peppers
1         pound of cherry tomatoes, each cut in half
2         pounds of large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2         cooked lobsters, 1-1.25 pounds each, meat removed and the lobster shell halved and saved for garnish
1         glass of chardonnay white wine (5 to 6 ounces or to taste)
12       ounces of fresh spaghetti or 8 ounces of dried
Kosher salt
1         ounce of saffron
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
3         tablespoons of chopped fresh basil for garnish

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the clams and the empty lobster shells. (The shells will add flavor.) Add the garlic and one tablespoon of fresh parsley. Stir until the garlic starts to brown, about 30 seconds. Season with fresh chili peppers. Add the cherry tomatoes, shrimp and lobster meat. Cook, stirring until the shrimp starts to turn color, about two minutes.

Add the wine and bring to a boil. Cook for two minutes. Lower the heat, cover the pan with a lid and steam until the clams open, about eight to 10 minutes. (Add more wine or water if needed.) Transfer the clams to a large warm bowl and discard those that didn’t open.

Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in a large pot of salted boiling water until barely al dente, about two minutes. If using fresh pasta, reserve two tablespoons of the pasta’s cooking liquid.

Return the sauce to a boil, add saffron, pasta and pasta cooking liquid. Simmer until well combined, from 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer the pasta mixture to a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon up the spaghetti and place it in the middle of the plate. Place the clams in a circle around the pasta and the saved lobster shells around clams for color. Spoon the shrimp and lobster meat on top of the pasta and garnish with remaining fresh parsley, basil and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.