Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fettucine Puttanesca, or Spaghetti with Oysters

Did the Italian Society Cafe serve fettucine puttanesca in the 1920s? The cafe's menu has proved elusive, but Australian home cooks certainly cooked spaghetti - although probably not spaghetti Italians would recognise. (My fettucine recipe is below.)

Heinz and Rosella brands of spaghetti in tomato sauce were available in the 1920s, and in 1930 Hancock's Golden Crust Pty Ltd in South Yarra began producing macaroni under its "Kookaburra" brand, quickly expanding to spaghetti and vermicelli. By 1932 the company was exporting millions of cartons of pasta to England and the "Overseas Empire". Newspaper ads for Kookaburra spaghetti, macaroni and vermicelli included recipe suggestions such as Spaghetti with Oysters, Spaghetti a' L'Indienne (with curry) and Spaghetti with Mushrooms (served on toast).

Most recipes required the spaghetti strands to be broken up - even in the 1970s spaghetti was twice as long as it is now - and boiled in lightly salted water, with none of this "salty as the sea" nonsense, for at least 30 minutes. A Kookaburra recipe published in the Brisbane Courier in 1936 required 3 dozen oysters and their liquor, a double quantity of white sauce and 500g Kookaburra spaghetti. The cooked spaghetti and raw oysters are layered in a baking dish, the white sauce poured over, the whole topped with buttered breadcrumbs and baked in a hot oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

This more appealing recipe from the Sydney Morning Herald in 1936 calls for a dozen oysters, a small amount of spaghetti and a half quantity of white sauce seasoned with lemon juice and cayenne.

Spaghetti with Oysters

60g spaghetti
1 dozen oysters
15g butter
1 level dessertspoon plain flour
1/2 cup milk
juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt, cayenne

Break the spaghetti into 5cm lengths and cook in boiling salted water until tender; drain. In a saucepan, melt the butter, stir in the flour and cook on a low heat for a minute or two. Add the milk and stir until it boils and thickens. Season with lemon juice, salt and cayenne. Add the drained spaghetti to the sauce. Cut six of the oysters in half and add them to the spaghetti sauce. Pour into an ovenproof dish and lightly brown in a hot oven for five minutes. Put six whole oysters on top and serve garnished with parsley.

Fettucine Puttanesca

250g fettucine
1-2 tbsp olive oil
200g canned tomatoes
3-4 fresh ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 small green chillies, finely chopped
12 Kalamata olives, stoned
6 anchovies
1 tbsp capers
Handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
parmesan or reggiano

Cook fettucine in salted boiling water. In a pan, heat the oil and cook the garlic and chillies for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes and simmer while the fettucine is cooking. Drain the fettucine. Add olives, anchovies and capers to tomato sauce and stir in the fettucine. Toss in the basil leaves. (If the basil in the photo looks odd, it's because The Bloke got Thia basil by mistake so I used it for garnish.) Top with grated parmesan or reggiano. Serves 3.

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