Introduction: Penne Al Pesto With Shrimp, Crayfish & Fennel

About: Je suis flâneur. There is no English equivalent for the French word flaneur. Cassell's dictionary defines flaneur as a stroller, saunterer, drifter but none of these terms seems quite accurate. There is no Eng…

A dish served at or near room temperature. Wonderful on a warm summer night. An all around comfort food.

I invented this dish. At that time I searched the internet (at least in English) to see if any other recipe existed online mixing shrimp and crayfish. I could not find any, so this is a signature dish of which I'm most proud.

I offer an apology to all Italians about the title. I would like to be as creative about the name of this dish as its flavors and textures. I could not get a translation of crayfish. It's gamberi, which also translates to shrimp. But I refuse to name it: Penne al Pesto con Gamberi, Gamberi & Finocchio. For proper Italian please see: Quatro Fromaggio.

You may find precooked crayfish at your local market. I never see fresh (uncooked) crayfish. From a flavor standpoint, it is not a significant compromise.

This dish uses fish stock, or court-bouilion (court-bouilion is menu French, here in the USA.) to poach shrimp. Then more water is added to the stock and the pasta is cooked in that. The purpose of making a stock with little water is to decoct that crayfish flavor into the liquid quickly, so the stock doesn't get gamey tasting. Chers amis, read on.

This dish is simple to assemble, but the making of the court-bouilion is a little time consuming. As always with cooking, follow the mis en place.

The Main Ingredients

1 1/2 lbs of shrimp (I prefer uncooked)

2 - 3 lbs. crayfish, whole, not that much weight in tail meat alone.

8 ozs penne easiest to find (gemeli preferred)

1 head of fennel, with fronds, fresh

12 to 16 cherry tomatoes

6 ozs. basil pesto (I suggest lemon basil for seafood dishes.)

1 bell pepper, green, peeled as best you can and diced

1 red onion, medium size, diced

Parmesan Cheese, for garnish

Optional Ingredients

1/2 cup green olives, pitted, chopped coarsely

1 tbs. capers


1 frond of the fennel bulb

1 brown onion, unpeeled, cut in half

2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed

1 tsp. fennel seeds, bruised

1/4 tsp. peppercorns, bruised

2 carrots, unpeeled

1 tbs. salt

Step 1: Preparing the Court-Bouillon

Mush, to a fine pulp, the garlic. Add it to the pesto and stir to well mix. Reserve, covered. Halve the tomatoes. Dice the onion. Peel and dice the green bell pepper. Cut 6 or 8 slices of the white of the fennel bulb. Chop further into delectable size pieces. Remove the pits from the olives and coarsely chop them. Rinse the capers. Put all of these in a bowl and have it ready for when the pasta is cooked.

Twisting the crayfish by the tail and pulling, remove it and using scissors, cut the shell away, reserve the tail meat, which cover and refrigerate while the remainder of the work proceeds. Save all the crayfish bits and pieces, as they are going into the court-bouillon, next. If you like, you can crush the crayfish shells and claws a little to help release the flavor. Shell the shrimp, reserving the shells as well and add the shrimp shells to the stock, too. Add the shrimp to the refrigerated crayfish, covered with plastic wrap. This will keep, refrigerated, for an afternoon and can be made ahead for convenience.

To 64 ozs. of water, or 64 ozs. of a previously made fish stock, put the fennel fronds, brown onion, fennel seeds, peppercorns, carrots and salt. Next add the shrimp shells and crayfish debris. Put on low heat, covered. Bring to a simmer for 30 minutes. Then, stain the solids. BE CAREFUL! THE LIQUID IS VERY HOT! USE HOT PADS! I start with a colander in a stockpot and pour the hot liquid through it. Then I change to a fine sieve and pour the hot liquid through it into another stock pot. The solids may be discarded. I wait until they are cool before throwing them in a plastic bag. They have given their all to this dish. Next add the shrimp and crayfish tails. Cover the pot. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Check the doneness after 5 minutes by fetching a shrimp from the pot, cooling it under cool running water and taking a bite. Well poached shrimp is cooked through but neither dry nor tough. If preferred, the seafood can be quick chilled in an ice-water bath. Drain the seafood well, cover and return to the 'frig if not for immediate use.

To the still hot liquid, add sufficient water to make 3 to 4 quarts of cooking liquid. Cover. Put on a flame and return to a boil.

Typically the pasta cooking times are given on the package. I cooked the gemeli 10 minutes to the al dente stage. Drain the pasta from the cooking liquid. Transfer it to a large bowl. Toss the the gemeli or penne with the pesto to prevent sticking.

Step 2: Assembling the Dish

Toss the pasta in the pesto-garlic mixture. Add the shellfish. Toss to coat and mix well. Add the remaining ingredients and toss to incorporate.

Serve in soup bowls or similar. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and the whisps of fennel fronds. (see picture).

May also be served cold or in a salad like manner, removed from the refrigerator 20 minutes before serving.