Traditional Long Spaghetti with Shrimp, Saffron & Zucchini Flower Pesto and the Beautiful Cinque Terre

Over dinner, my family and I were speaking about which season we like best.  I love spring because after a long, cold winter, I see life again.  Everything starts growing and the colors start to paint nature with bright greens and all the colors of the rainbow.  There are also the spring vegetables & fruits that motivate me to be more creative in the kitchen.  I should also mention the perfection of the temperature.  It's not too hot nor too cold. 

My husband prefers autumn because it's the end of the hottest season of the year and the temperature starts to drop.  The summer activities are finished and the slower rhythm of life starts.  My 6-year old son prefers winter because it's the time when he can play with snow even if we rarely get snow in Rome.  From a person who gets cold easily, I was thinking he would choose summer.  My perpetually hot 2-year old daughter prefers summer instead.  Her reason came from her little heart.  Because her brother is on his summer vacation and she gets to spend more time with him.  Sometimes kids can astound you.

That done, I thought about how much I don't know my family sometimes.  I thought I knew them inside and out but instead, the simple conversation about the choices of season gripped me with surprise.   I never thought my husband loved autumn.  Being always hot like my daughter, I thought both of them would prefer winter and my son, who loves outdoors and the heat so much, would choose summer.  Instead, there are deeper reasons why they prefer some seasons over the others. 

Even if we all have completely different choices about the seasons we love, this pasta gave us a break with our different views.   We all had one word for it.

Buonissima!  (Very good!)

This time, I knew that everyone will love it because I put the ingredients that everyone loves.

Seeing Cinque Terre (Five Lands) a few times never tired me from gaping at its beauty.  Here is a collection of photos from past visits to the area.  All five towns, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia & Monterosso al Mare are similar, yet diverse from each other.   We drove to the towns and close to the others by car (not all towns are accessible by car) and we also took the ferry from La Spezia which gave us access to all 4 towns except Corniglia (not accessible by boat).  Both approaches to the area rewarded us with beautiful panoramas of the whole area.  Here's a helpful link to find out how to reach Cinque Terre by train, car or boat.

In the area, there is a sixth town that captivated me.  It's not among the 5 villages of Cinque Terre but it merits to be mentioned and visited.  The town is called Porto Venere.  Beautiful Porto Venere was actually designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site along with Cinque Terre in 1997.

Being known as the ancient Portus Veneris that dates back in the middle of 1st century B.C., it has been said that the name refers to a temple of Venus that was located where the present church of the village now stands.   There is also a castle dominating the village that has the first indications of its existence in 1113.  

There is a walking trail callled Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Path) that connects the five villages.  The trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola is called Via dell'Amore (Street of Love) and is wheelchair-friendly.   Whereas the stretch from Manarola to Corniglia (still closed in April 2012 for ongoing repairs from the October 2011 damage) is the easiest to hike, although the main trail into Corniglia finishes with a climb of 368 stairs.  (Information taken from Wikipedia)

Before I end this, let me explain that originally, spaghetti were made half a meter long.  Fresh spaghetti were hang to dry on hooks so they were usually bent in the middle.  They were invented in Napoli (Naples) and in 1842, they were given the name spaghetti because they resemble pieces of spago (string).  Over time, they were shortened to half its size for easier commercial packaging.  

I hope you enjoyed this post.  Let's start the week right with a dish of fresh and light ingredients.  Have a good week!

Traditional Long Spaghetti with Shrimp, Saffron & Zucchini Flower Pesto

Serves 4
  • 350 - 400 g. long spaghetti (regular spaghetti or any long pasta)
  • 10 zucchini flowers
  • 1 kilo shrimp, deveined & shelled, leaving the heads on
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 glass white wine (250 ml.)
  • 1 g. saffron
  • bunch of parsley
  • 150 g. sun-dried tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + 1/4 cup for the pesto
  • 1 chili, seeded & chopped
  1. Boil water for the pasta.  When the water boils, add some salt.  Put the pasta in the boiling water and follow the cooking time suggested in the box, lessening 1 minute to cook the pasta more with the pesto.
  2. Meanwhile, while waiting for the water to boil, sautè the garlic & chili in a saucepan with about 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.
  3. When the garlic turns golden, add the shrimp. Cook them until they change color, about 7 minutes.
  4. Add the white wine on medium - high flame and let the alcohol evaporate.
  5. Season with salt & pepper.
  6. When the sauce becomes a slightly thick, turn off the fire.  
  7. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl, leaving its liquid in the saucepan. Set aside 4 - 8 shrimp with the heads on for garnishing. Take away all the heads of the prawns that remained.  Discard the heads.
  8. Put the shrimp in a blender along with the bundle of parsley (leave some for garnishing), saffron, zucchini flowers, sun-dried tomatoes & 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil to make the pesto.
  9. Turn on the fire again to warm up the saucepan with the remaining liquid.  Put the pesto in the saucepan.  Add the cooked pasta and mix together well for 2 minutes. 
  10. Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley.  Put 1 - 2 shrimp on top.
  11. Serve hot.