Holiday festivities are muted and gatherings reduced this year, inspiring feelings that toggle between a yearning for glitter and a craving for comfort. How to celebrate and what to eat live for a balance between these mixed desires. In my mind, the following recipe achieves just that. It’s simple yet elegant, special but not pretentious, and relies on a short list of honest ingredients that drive wonderfully fresh flavor.
I grew up in New England, where lobster is ubiquitous. It’s the quintessential summer food, associated with the seashore and bare feet, picnic tables and messy eating, accessorized by dribbling butter, nutcrackers and paper bibs. Now, many years and moves later, I rarely eat lobster. When I do, it’s usually on special occasions. The once standard summer fare has morphed into a celebratory treat, and there’s no time better for such an indulgence than the holidays, when shellfish and crustaceans go ever so well with a glass of bubbly.
This is a recipe for this time. It’s understated and comforting, yet carries the swag of fresh-cooked lobster meat. The method is simple, allowing the lobster to shine without bogging it down with heavy or precious ingredients; it humbly yet elegantly gives the lobster (and its necessary splurge) the respect and appreciation it deserves.
If you prefer not to use lobster meat, shrimp are an excellent alternative, and they will bump this recipe onto your roster of easy weeknight meals. When using shrimp, simply saute them in olive oil with a pinch of salt before adding them to the dish.
1 pound spaghetti or bucatini
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound grape tomatoes, halved
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for garnish
1 pound cooked lobster meat, as chunky as possible
½ cup loosely packed basil leaves, torn, plus extra for garnish
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a rolling boil. Add the spaghetti and cook 1 minute less than al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking water.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the tomatoes and cook until they begin to break down and their juices release, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and continue to cook until fragrant and the tomatoes soften further, 2 to 3 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper and taste to adjust.
Add the lobster meat to the skillet and stir to coat. Add the drained pasta and ¼ cup reserved cooking liquid. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the dish is well combined, adding ¼ cup more liquid at a time to your desired consistency. The sauce should be glossy and evenly coat the spaghetti without being stodgy. Stir in the basil.
Divide the pasta between serving plates and garnish with additional basil, freshly ground black pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.
Lynda Balslev is a San Francisco Bay Area cookbook author, food and travel writer and recipe developer.