Recipe: Lasagnette with Lobster, Crème Fraîche, and Grappa
I suppose many people would look at the artwork on this Schiaparelli dress and see a depiction of sex, and that’s the way it was interpreted when it was modeled by Wallis Simpson for a famous 1937 Vogue fashion shoot by Cecil Beaton. I believe the spread was actually an attempt to modify Ms. Simpson’s somewhat slutty image, only to backfire because of what most people perceived as the dress’s sexual connotation (the placement of the lobster, falling right between her legs, didn’t help). But I interpret it differently. I see the lobster design as a strong symbol of the deliciousness of food. If we don’t eat we die, and if we don’t eat good food we may die of a deadened palate. If the lobster on this dress were depicted alive, maybe I’d think differently, but this lobster is bright red, which means it has been cooked, and it is obviously dead, from the way it’s hanging limp. For me this is a design that glorifies good things to eat, of which in my opinion there are far too few representations in the fashion world. Enough with the florals already. I would love to own a dress with a green olive motif. I’ll have to discuss that with Marc Jacobs the next time I bump into him in the West Village.
Years ago I had a cotton sundress that was printed with slices of lemons and limes. It was a sleeveless shirtwaist, and it made me extremely happy whenever I wore it. I wore it year round, even in the winter, reasoning that citrus was in season then, making the flimsy thing appropriate for January. It always reminded me of gin and tonic with a slice of lemon or lime stuck on the side of the glass.
But this lobster dress, a famous collaboration between Salvador Dali and Miss Schiaparelli, which I saw up close at the Duke and Duchess of Windsor show at the Met in, I believe, 2002, is quite light and summery despite carrying such a huge design (it is not a weighty ball gown). It works if you think of it as a really long lobster bib. To me it would be the perfect thing to wear to a clambake. I’d definitely want to be eating lobster while wearing it. And its color is unusual. It’s pink red, not the true orangey red of a cooked lobster. Its pinky red reminds me of a certain shade of lipstick that looks quite frightening—but in a good way—on me and other people with olive skin, but it also recalls tomatoes mixed with a touch of cream, the color of penne alla vodka, in fact. I wanted to capture that color when I went about creating this lobster pasta, in honor of what I consider to be a still exciting fashion design. And I think I got it.
Lasagnette with Lobster, Crème Fraîche, and Grappa
(Serves 4 as a main course)
3 small lobsters (about 1½ pounds each)
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, cut into small dice
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
6 large thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
1 small inner celery stalk, cut into small dice, plus the leaves from about 4 stalks, chopped
A generous pinch of sugar
About 8 big scrapings of nutmeg
A generous pinch of Aleppo pepper (or a smaller pinch of cayenne)
⅓ cup grappa
1 35-ounce can high-quality Italian plum tomatoes, with the juice, well chopped
¼ cup crème fraîche
1 pound lasagnette pasta
A dozen basil leaves, lightly chopped, plus a few whole sprigs for garnish
For the best flavor and texture, the lobsters for this dish should be sautéed raw. This means either hacking them up alive (something I no longer have the stomach for) or, my new solution, having your fish seller kill them for you. You just have to make sure you cook them within about six hours. Once you get your lobsters home, you’ll need to cut them into pieces. Get a sharp, heavy knife or a cleaver, and start by cutting the lobsters in half horizontally through the top of the shell. Remove the head sac, located on either side of the top of the shell. Then separate the tail sections from the head sections. Remove the claws and front legs in one piece, and give the claws a swift whack with the back of your knife or cleaver to crack them. You’ll notice a long, dark intestinal tract running along the top of one of the tail sections; pull that out. Remove the tomalley, and the roe if you find any, and place in a small bowl, mashing it up a bit.
If you don’t want to bother with all this, just have your fish seller cut up your lobsters for you.
Set up a large pot of pasta cooking water over high heat.
In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots, celery and leaves, thyme, a pinch of sugar, salt, Aleppo or cayenne, and nutmeg, and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, and let it soften for about 30 seconds. Add half of the grappa, and let it bubble until almost dry. Add the tomatoes and a splash of water, and simmer, uncovered, for about 8 minutes. Turn off the heat.
In a very large sauté skillet (or two smaller ones), heat two tablespoons of olive oil (a little more if you’re using two skillets) over medium-high heat. When hot, add the lobster pieces, shell side down, and sauté until they turn pink, about 4 minutes. Turn the pieces over, and sauté for a minute on the other side. Now add the remaining grappa, and let it bubble away. Add the tomato sauce, and the tomalley and roe, if you have it, and let everything simmer, uncovered, until the lobster is just tender, about 5 minutes. The sauce will be a bit loose. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and a pinch of Aleppo or cayenne if desired (this is not meant to be a full-on Fra Diavolo hot sauce; you really want just a hint of heat).
While the lobster is simmering, add a generous amount of salt to the boiling pasta water, and drop the lasagnette into the pot. Cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, leaving a little water clinging to it, and pour it onto a very large serving platter. Drizzle with a generous amount of olive oil, and give it a toss. Add the crème fraiche and the chopped basil to the lobster sauce, giving it a good stir, and pour it over the top. Garnish with the basil sprigs. Serve right away.