Spaghetti with prawns and tomato

Spaghetti with prawns and tomato

Spaghetti e scampi alla busara all’ada

Helen Cathcart

The wonderful chef Ada Catto worked at Ca’ D’Oro – known locally as Alla Vedova, meaning the Widow’s Place – for 30 years where this dish was served in multitude every day. Ada uses chilli to give it a kick of spice, and other Venetians have told me they use paprika to give it a sweet spicy flavour. I make this dish spicy so if you prefer it milder then reduce the amount of chilli to suit your taste. Do taste the chilli before adding it to the dish as they vary in strength. Ada also recommended using good homemade tomato passata, but failing that use Italian tinned tomatoes and tomato purée. If you can find them use prawns with their heads still on, as that is where the flavour lies. If you can’t find them, to get a stronger flavour of shellfish add 100 ml of seafood stock with the tomatoes.


Quantity Ingredient
500g raw prawns, shells and heads on if possible
freshly ground black pepper
50g ‘00’ or plain flour
2 garlic cloves, kept whole, peeled and lightly crushed
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons cognac
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1/2-1 red fresh or dried chilli, finely chopped, to taste
or 2 tablespoons ground hot paprika
350g spaghetti
handful parsley, finely chopped, to serve
400g tomato passata
or 400g tinned italian whole plum tomatoes, pureed in a blender


  1. Remove the shells and tails from the prawns leaving the heads attached to the body. Make a shallow cut down the length of the back of the body and remove the black vein. Put them into a mixing bowl and season, then add the flour and toss with your hands to coat the prawns. Fry the garlic in a large frying pan in the oil for 1 minute over a medium heat. Take the prawns from the flour, shaking off any excess, and add to the pan. Very briefly fry the prawns until they are pink and the flour has slightly browned. Add the cognac, shake the pan and when the strong smell of alcohol has dissipated remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon. Set aside in a bowl. Leave the garlic in the pan and add the chilli, fry for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and tomato purée, and leave it to cook, stirring every now and again, for 15–20 minutes over a low heat so it is just bubbling.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cook the spaghetti for 8–10 minutes or until al dente. Halfway through put the prawns into the tomato sauce along with any juices in the bowl. Taste the sauce and season as necessary. Drain the pasta and add to the tomato sauce and toss or stir through the sauce. Divide among 4 warm bowls and scatter over the parsley to serve.
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