Spicy crab and tomato pasta is a restaurant dish worth making at home

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Do you ever wonder what your favorite chefs cook at home, when they’re in their own kitchens, away from the chaos of the restaurant? Do dishes from their menus ever end up on their dining room tables?

Well, this recipe is an answer. It comes from Stephanie Dietz, who runs the Pink Dinghy in Virginia Beach, a delightful restaurant that has the kind of menu that makes me want to order one of everything. When I asked Stephanie whether she had a great weeknight recipe to share, she replied: “I’m thinking of this crab pasta that we make at the restaurant, and made at home the other night. It’s so luxurious but also super easy and feels like a decadent treat for a weeknight.”

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I could not describe it better myself.

Get the recipe: Bucatini With Tomato Butter and Crab

I got on Zoom with Stephanie and her husband, Jon, so they could show me how they make it. First, they mixed softened butter with tomato paste, Calabrian chile paste and lemon zest to make a beautiful compound butter. Then, while they boiled bucatini in a big pot, they sauteed shallots, cherry tomatoes and garlic in olive oil, added lots of the fragrant butter, and finished the sauce with white wine and plenty of the starchy pasta cooking water. At the very end, they folded in a generous amount of fresh jumbo lump crab.

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This is just how they make it in the restaurant, which makes a lot of sense when you’re a chef preparing each bowl of pasta to order. At home, you can skip making the separate compound butter and just add all its ingredients to the skillet. (We home cooks don’t have to worry about making sure multiple bowls taste consistent throughout the night. Plus, why wash a mixer if we don’t have to?)

If you do want to make the compound butter, you can double or triple those ingredients to make a big batch, form it into a log, wrap it in plastic and store it in the freezer. (Using a stand or hand mixer, beat the softened butter with the tomato paste, Calabrian chile paste and lemon zest.) Cut off discs to slather on roast chicken right when it comes out of the oven, melt some in a skillet and throw grilled shrimp in it, or toast bread and spread it thickly with the butter and use that to make a delicious sandwich with mortadella. If Calabrian chile paste is a new ingredient in your kitchen, try using it anywhere you’d use sambal or hot sauce (and mix with mayo for a great sandwich spread).

I digress. Back to the pasta. The silky, buttery sauce makes the bucatini just as decadent as the fresh crab. Which is to say, you can leave the crab out and still have a beautiful, rich pasta that happens to be vegetarian. If you’re looking for seafood but want a lower price tag, you can substitute high-quality canned crab, fresh shrimp (rock shrimp work well here; stir them in right as the pasta meets the sauce so they cook in the few minutes it takes for the pasta to absorb the sauce), or serve with steamed mussels. Or go big and combine crab, shrimp and mussels for an extra-special mixed seafood pasta.

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When I asked Stephanie whether any particular moment or place inspired this recipe, she knew the answer right away: It was the crab spaghetti once on the menu at Edo’s Squid in Richmond, what she describes as a “no-frills, perfect Italian restaurant.”

I love thinking of one chef sitting in another’s restaurant, loving the food so much that she brings it home to her restaurant and now, through the generosity of sharing it here, brings it into our kitchens. I’ll be making this tonight — and I hope you’ll join me.

Get the recipe: Bucatini With Tomato Butter and Crab

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