Toulouse is an unusual beast. It proudly displays its terracotta buildings as a badge of honour that declares it belongs in the Mediterranean. I mean, you won’t spot any buildings that glow in the sun in wet and windy Wales for instance. So, you come to Toulouse, bedazzled and seduced. And yet now, this city is taking the mickey. Crab linguine this week is served with a side of thunder, lightening and drenched ankles. My raincoat has seen more action than my sun cream.
Last week – in the sun incidentally, because it was actually here a week ago and I was applying sun cream – I was chatting to a French guy who very kindly spoke French slowly for me, and from what I gathered the weather in Toulouse is atypical for the region. Thanks to the Mediterranean in one direction, the Atlantic – known for being hard and grey, possibly the liquid version of steel – in the other, and the Pyrenees too, Toulouse is the Manchester of the south of France. I wish we’d known that before we moved.
A few months ago, I’d planned that May would be the kindly month bringing summer. I’d planned it you see and devised a late spring dinner of crab linguine made with gently simmered tomatoes, white wine and lemon, sprinkled with crispy breadcrumbs. Wishful thinking? Yes evidently, but I blame May last year and that outrageous heatwave – to think I was making ice cream?! The fan was dug out of storage and it slowly whirred into action, and the only clothes I could bear to put on were dresses that ended up sticking to the back of my legs. We flung open the French doors and flies immediately came exploring, but who cared it was suddenly summer, a whole month early!
Today, a year later, I write this huddled under a blanket and, of course, I’m wearing those sexy slippers of mine. I’ll probably be buried wearing them at this rate.
So, I left one Manchester and moved to another. At least I don’t live on a roundabout here I guess, there’s an upside (as I hear the rain patter against the windows for the fifth time today). Admittedly, here there are impressive thunderstorms so spectacular we’ve sometimes turned off the lights and sat next to the window for the performance. The thunder the other day made the room shake, my water in my glass trembling as the sky pulsed with its final drumroll. And here, at least crab linguine with tomato and white wine seems like a dish befitting the region, it’s enough to delude me that summer is around the corner.
Last week, I spent an evening on a beautiful secret restaurant terrace hidden behind a big tree (more to come in next week’s post!) and there were twinkling fairy lights and I was comfortable all night long in just a t-shirt and linen trousers as I nursed my aperol spritz – proud that I was fulfilling the Instagram cliché of summer. I chuckle to think of that now as I sit here like an old lady in a nursing home.
While this restaurant didn’t actually serve crab linguine, I might email them and suggest they add it to their menu for whenever the sun’s out again because, along with the aperol spritzes, crab linguine is the cuisine summer dreams are made of – and the perfect fodder for influencers.
For me, just thinking of silky tendrils of pasta coated in tomato sauce flecked with crab, I’m transported to the Amalfi coast – why, I have no idea. It just seems fitting, don’t you think? All those lemons there could be put to good use and be juiced all over my dinner. So wherever you are, try this crab linguine, shut your eyes, and melt away from your kitchen, living room, dining room, as the summer Italian terrace awaits.
I was inspired by Gizzi Erskine’s recipe as hers included more than just crab, lemon and chilli. This recipe had body and muscle with all that garlic and tomato, and then honest to god, it’s like a third of a bottle of wine, so I swiftly earmarked the page. However, and nothing against Gizzi’s tastes, the recipe turned out to be far too acidic – tomatoes, white wine and the juice of a lemon is enough to give you an ulcer. So, the sour meter was turned down a notch, giving the crab – the quiet, unassuming star of the show after all – space to breathe.
The garlic, tomato and wine is slowly simmered until rich then in goes the crab, the dash of lemon and oregano, tumble in your linguine and stir to coat thickly in sauce. Scattered with parsley for freshness, you can sex it up a bit with some chilli flakes and black pepper. Then, because what pasta needs is more carbs, you sprinkle it with homemade crispy breadcrumbs. Every crabby, lemony, garlicky, tomatoey bite, gulp and slurp is accompanied by a salty crunch that you didn’t know you desperately needed.
Crab linguine is the dish to transport you to summer – it works a treat if the weather just isn’t playing ball.
Crab Linguine with Tomato, White Wine and Breadcrumbs
For the breadcrumbs
- A chunk of day-old baguette or other stale bread
- Olive oil
For the linguine
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 large cloves of garlic crushed
- 150 ml white wine
- 150 ml water
- 1 large tomato or 2 medium tomatoes sliced into 16 (or 8 segments)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 200 g dried linguine
- 300 g tinned crab
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Chilli flakes to serve
- First make the breadcrumbs. Take a box grater and grate the chunk of stale bread on the wide grating holes. Grate as much or as little as you'd like – it'll take perseverance but there'll be lots of bread dust and some bigger crumbs. Cover the base of a frying pan with olive oil and set the heat to high. Test if it's hot enough by adding some crumbs – if they sizzle, the oil is ready. Fry the crumbs until golden and crispy, then tip them out onto a kitchen-paper lined plate and immediately season with salt.
- Wipe out the frying pan and add the olive oil. Once hot, add the crushed garlic. Saute for 20 secs until fragrant then add the tomato slices. Season with some salt and cook in the garlicky oil until slightly broken down, around 3-4 mins. Add the wine and water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid level has reduced by half.
- Meanwhile, cook the linguine in salted boiling water according to packet instructions – it should take 9-10 mins. Drain in a colander but reserve a mugful of starchy pasta water.
- Drain the tinned crab through a sieve and season with salt and stir together with the lemon zest.
- Once the tomato sauce has reduced, season with salt and pepper and stir in the sugar. Cook for another minute then remove from the heat and add the lemony crabmeat, lemon juice and oregano. Stir to combine then tip in all the cooked linguine. Using tongs, coat in the crab and tomato sauce. Add some reserved pasta water if it looks too dry. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and chilli flakes. Divide between bowls and serve with the crunchy breadcrumbs.
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