One of my favorite—and showiest—appetizers is nothing more than several kinds of seafood, gently cooked and bathed in an olive oil and lemon dressing.
Frutti di mare is the lovely Italian name for the shellfish, crustaceans and cephalopods I’m talking about. Some tips for making this marinated seafood appetizer special:
Choose three or four seafood varieties with contrasting shapes and colors. Small shrimp, pretty and pink, are a no brainer. Mussels and clams, with their interesting convoluted shapes, are darker in color. Scallops are white and luscious looking. Baby octopus and squid, with their irresistibly squiggly tentacles, finish off the display. Crabmeat and lobster claw meat, delicious as they are, are wasted in this beauty competition.
Cook each kind of seafood with care. Octopuses turn their cooking water dark, so are best cooked on their own, then drained. Mussels are space hogs, filling your sauté pan while leaving behind a delectable essence, ideal for embellishing before cooking other seafood. Shrimp require a few minutes of gentle cooking, while scallops need only to be heated through.
Cool seafood before adding the marinade. Because shellfish and crustaceans throw off liquid as they cool, adding the marinade too soon could turn it watery. Chill the seafood salad for several hours or overnight, giving flavors a chance to develop.
Serve in gorgeous glasses or clear dishes. Show off your frutti di mare mix in coupe champagne glasses, martini glasses or stemmed dessert bowls. Garnish with microgreens, just a sprig or two.
Plan for leftovers. Our favorite thing to do with marinated seafood, apart from eating it solo, is to mix it the next day with freshly cooked linguine. My husband, who usually takes on this job, likes to pump up the flavor with sautéed garlic.
- 2 lemons
- 1 ½ pounds small shrimp
- 1 pound baby octopus or squid
- 3 pounds mussels or clams
- 1 pound sea scallops preferably “dry” (zero or minimal preservatives)
- Bay leaves
- Black peppercorns
- 4 garlic cloves crushed
- Extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup white wine or dry vermouth
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground white or black pepper
- 1 or 2 celery stalks thinly sliced
Prep lemons: Zest one of the lemons. Halve lemons and squeeze juice. Reserve zest, lemon shells and juice.
Prepare seafood: Peel shrimp. Split baby octopus if large. Rinse mussels and pull off any “beards.” Halve or quarter scallops as needed for similar size as other seafood.
Cook octopus: Fill a medium saucepan with enough water to cover octopus. Add 2 bay leaves, 2 lemon shells and a few peppercorns. Bring to a simmer. Add octopus and simmer, partly covered, until tender, about 20 minutes. Cool in cooking liquid (can be refrigerated). Drain.
Cook mussels: In a large skillet, saute garlic over medium heat in 2 tablespoons olive oil until golden. Add white wine. Stir and add mussels. Cover and cook until mussels open (discard any that do not). Cool slightly in skillet.
Transfer mussels to a large bowl, leaving liquid in pan. When cool, pick mussels and place in another bowl. Discard shells.
Cook shrimp and scallops:. Add 2 cups water, 2 bay leaves, the remaining 2 lemon shells and a few peppercorns to mussel liquid. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add shrimp and cook until they start to turn opaque. Add scallops and simmer a minute or two longer. With a slotted spoon, transfer seafood to a bowl and cool. Discard cooking liquid.
Make dressing: Combine ½ cup olive oil with ¼ cup lemon juice and lemon zest. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Combine seafood: In a large bowl, combine shrimp, scallops, octopus and mussels. With a spatula, gently stir in dressing. Chill thoroughly for at least 4 hours and preferably longer (24 hours is ideal).
To serve: Fold celery into seafood. Using a slotted spoon, scoop seafood into coupe champagne glasses or glass dessert bowls. Garnish with microgreens.