The Rules say using cheese in seafood dishes is forbidden. The Rules dictate that the flavor of cheese is too bold and overwhelming for mild, delicate fish and shellfish. Cows and fish are separated by geography and therefore must remain separate on the plate, The Rules will have you believe.
If The Rules were strictly enforced, bagels with cream cheese and lox, Smoked Salmon Spread, crab dip, pizza with anchovies, tuna melts, tuna noodle casserole, coquilles St. Jacques, and even Caesar Salad would be prohibited. Who among us would want to live in a world without those?
The Rules against combining seafood come to us from the Italian culinary tradition, and you know I have great respect for Italian culinary tradition. I’m not saying that so many chefs, home cooks, and nonnas are wrong. But I am saying The Rules are meant to be broken. Cook what you like! Eat what you like, people, no matter what anyone else has to say about it!
So go ahead and fold crabmeat into your fettuccini with Alfredo Sauce and sprinkle grated parm onto your Spaghetti with Seafood Marinara and linguini with clams if you want to! Just be prepared for a few sideways glances from orthodox Italian cooks.
Before I get to a recipe that breaks all The Rules, I have a quick announcement: Leite’s Culinaria is giving away a copy of Flavored Butters. Enter for your chance to win.
Baked Paccheri with Crab and Ricotta
2 ounces (½ stick) unsalted butter, diced, plus more for greasing the baking dishes
2 ounces all-purpose flour
1 quart milk
½ small yellow onion
1 bay leaf
Generous pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
500 grams (1.1 pounds) paccheri
2 large eggs
1 clove garlic, grated
1 ¾ pounds ricotta
5 ½ ounces grated Parmegiano-Reggiano
1 pound lump Dungeness crabmeat, picked over
Heat the butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat until it melts, bubbles, and the foam subsides. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it begins to smell toasty. Whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, add the onion, bay leaf, clove, and nutmeg, and simmer for 20 to 22 minutes, or until thick. Remove from the heat, strain through a fine mesh sieve, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool.
Cook the paccheri in a large pot of boiling, salted water according to the package directions. When the paccheri begins to soften, using a wire skimmer, transfer it from the pot to a large bowl of ice-cold water to stop the cooking process, and then drain it thoroughly. Layer the paccheri between clean kitchen towels to dry.
Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Butter 8 individual baking dishes. Whisk together the eggs and garlic in a large bowl. Stir in the ricotta, 1 ½ ounces of the Parmegiano, and the crabmeat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip and pipe into the paccheri, filling each one loosely. Divide the filled paccheri among the baking dishes, arranging them in a single layer. Divide the white sauce among the baking dishes and spread evenly. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining 4 ounces of Parmegiano. Arrange the baking dishes on a baking tray and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling around the edges.
Serves 8. The paccheri should be boiled until it begins to soften but not until it is al dente. Undercooking the pasta in this way ensures that it doesn't become too mushy once it's baked. Feel free to substitute manicotti or jumbo shells for the paccheri. This rich dish is best accompanied by a salad with a sharp vinaigrette.