Scoglio, Two Ways

We first had scoglio on a ferry from Genoa to Sicily several years ago. We noticed immediately that the ship was filled with a horde of unruly teenagers and, as the trip took 27 hours, we were greatly relieved that we had booked a sleeping berth so that we could at least escape them at bedtime. As the dinner hour approached, we also noticed that they had taken over the cafeteria, so we made our way to the upscale “restaurant” where we were the only occupants. With wine in hand, we asked the waiter what scoglio was and he said it was spaghetti with fruitti di mare. We figured that, even though meals on ferries don’t usually rate a Michelin star, this might be a good bet on a ferry in the Meditteranean on its way to Sicily. And indeed it was.

Since then, we always order scoglio when we see it on a menu and make it ourselves when tomatoes are at their best and we have on hand mussels, clams, shrimp, squid, and possibly a scampi or two.  Scampi are also known as Dublin Bay prawns, langoustines, and in America as shrimp scampi which has always seemed to me like calling them shrimp-shrimp. But back to scoglio (pronounced sko-lee-o): The dictionary gives many translations including “rock” and “stumbling block”, none of which make much sense but it has such a pure rich flavor of shellfish and tomato that I would eat it no matter what it was called. You can make it with any kind of shellfish as long as you have at least 3-4 varieties.

I have always thought that its success was due to the combination of fresh shellfish and barely cooked, peak-of-season tomatoes, but last week when we were in Italy it was on the menu at one of our favorite restaurants on the coast and the sauce was a rich, dark, long-cooked essence of tomato and shellfish, totally different from any scoglio we’d had before – but just as delicious. So I’m going to give both recipes in case you’re still waiting for the perfect tomato to arrive.


Serves 4

Ingredients (Both recipes):

1/2 cup dry white wine

16  mussels

16 Manila clams 

12 uncooked prawns or shrimps (heads on if you can find them)

8 small calamari, cleaned and thawed if frozen

All of the above are approximate.  If you can only find mussels, or clams, substitute double of one for the other.

There are so many varieties of prawns and shrimp available now that you should go with whatever suits you, including frozen. Fresh calamari may also be hard to find.  I use the small frozen shells or rings (in the US from Trader Joe’s).   


Recipe A (rich tomato sauce):

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped

1 cup canned tomatoes, chopped, or 1 cup Italian passata


A pinch of cayenne

1. Make the tomato sauce: In a heavy-bottomed casserole, cook the onion over low heat in the olive oil until soft (about 5 minutes).  Add the garlic, the tomatoes or passata and the salt and cayenne (go easy on the salt as the mussel liquid may be very salty).  Let it cook slowly for about twenty minutes until it is reduced slightly and thickened.

2.The shellfish: If your shrimp have heads, peel them and make shrimp stock by just covering the heads and shells with water, and simmering for about 20 minutes.  (I always try to buy shrimp with their heads on and, no matter what dish I’m cooking, I make shrimp stock and freeze it for future use.)

3. In the meantime, steam the mussels in the wine over high heat until they open (about 4 minutes, do not overcook). As soon as they open, drain them, saving the liquid, and remove to a bowl.  Steam the clams in the same liquid until they open, adding them to the saved mussels. Turn down the heat and poach the shrimp, 1-2 minutes, depending on size and add them to the other shellfish.

4. Cut the squid into rings, if they don’t come that way.  Dry them well and saute them in a little olive oil over high heat for 1-2 minutes.  Cook them more and they will toughen and be like little rubber bands.  Add them to the other shellfish.

5. Strain the liquid into the tomato sauce being sure to leave behind any debris from the mussels and clams.  If you are lucky enough to have shrimp stock, add it to the pot at the same time. Continue to cook the sauce until it is further reduced – you want to end up with about one to one and a half cups of rich sauce, total.  Check for seasoning – your probably won’t need  salt because of the mussel liquid.

6. Cook the spaghetti or linguine according to the package directions until just al dente.  Drain well and add to the sauce.  Toss for a minute to absord some of the sauce and then add all the shellfish to heat through.  Serve immediately.

Recipe B (with fresh tomatoes):

In addition to the shellfish ingredients above:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 ripe tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon chopped basil or basil and parsley mixed   

Follow instructions for 2, 3, and 4 above. 

Then saute the tomatoes and the garlic in the olive oil for a couple of minutes to combine.  Reduce the strained liquid in which you cooked the shellfish (along with the shrimp stock if you have it)  to about a cup.  Add it to the chopped tomatoes and cook for about 2 minutes.  Check for salt. Then cook your spaghetti as in 6. and add it to the tomato mixture, along with all the shellfish.  Toss until the pasta has absorbed most of the liquid and the shellfish is heated through. Sprinkle with the basil, and serve at once.  

This probably all sounds quite complicated (I can hear Brenda saying, “I didn’t think it was complicated”) but if you assemble all your ingredients and take it step by step, both dishes really are worth the trouble.

Note from Brad:  For Recipe A, I think it’s important to brown a half cup of breadcrumbs in olive oil and sprinkle them over the dish at the last minute.

Note from Sam: Hello! I am still participating in the blog (light editing, as well as actually taking Jake’s text and putting it into blog format), yet Jake is now taking all the photos on her own. (She emails them to me, and I merely fine tune them). I mention this because some of the photos lately have been quite good, and I thought our esteemed readers might be confused as to who is actually taking the photos.  Is it Jake? Surely it couldn’t be Brad? Could Sam be in France at the moment? Here’s a handy rule of thumb if ever in doubt as to who the photographer is: check the edges of the white plate.  If it appears as though a small, possibly angry, insect has dragged itself through the inner plunges of the dish and then wiped itself clean on the perimeter of the plate before nary a bite has been taken, chances are very high that Jake took the photo.  Other than that, our photos are virtually interchangeable now!

  1. Tara said:

    That table looks familiar :-). I see you are eating well (as usual). As soon as I get cooking again, I will try the seafood and vegetarian recipes. They look great!

  2. brenda said:

    First of all Jake, thank you for your vote of confidence that I wouldn’t think this too complicated. Ok…a little complicated. I made the fresh tomato version since happily we do have some tasty tomatoes at the farmers market right now. My solution was to prep ahead by cleaning all the seafood and have it ready in prep bowls ready for assembly, I made the shrimp stock in advance of cooking anything else and peeled and chopped the tomatoes and had them in a prep bowl. While the pasta cooked I steamed the seafood and put it all together. The only down side was a few pots and prep bowls to clean up but this dish is so good you really don’t mind. Aside from the prep time the dish goes together so quickly and the taste and presentation is wonderful. I practiced on my husband…always a willing critic, but I will happily make this for guests next time. He loved the meal. Once again Jake this is a winner for our table. Thank you.

  3. brenda said:

    Ok, now I have tried both recipes. What can I say… both are wonderful and all I can think is that is covers both seasons, fresh tomato season and perhaps the winter, early spring before the tomatoes are divine and when the markets are bursting with yummy smelling tomatoes. Try both. Once you get the hang of it, it isn’t that complicated!!! Look for a great quality seafood place because the freshness of seafood is essential. My guests were so very pleased and as should be I give credit to Jake and her wonderful recipes. This time I was more efficient. Practice makes perfect! This is worth the effort.

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