coquina clams reloaded
The classic of Forte cuisine classics: spaghetti alle arselle. The perfect simplicity of a dish that tastes like summer, the sea, family and memorable vacations of the past and present. We asked some chefs of the riviera to feel fully free in reinterpreting it. Here are their proposals
Words Irene Arquint - Photography Gabriele Ancillotti
In the rest of Italy they are known as telline, in Viareggio nicchi, in Sicily cozze di Catania. On the Lazio coast they have even dedicated a “Slow Food Presidio” to them, a denomination that protects a diet capable of feeding people and, at the same time, of telling a story. Because we know: food is nourishment that speaks to the stomach, to ideas, and to emotions.
In Forte, they are called arselle or in English, coquina clams which are fished where the seabed is shallow, in the most romantic way: with the water no higher than the waist, trolling the “sand” with a heavy iron rake. Dragged by the strength of the searchers’ arms and lower backs, that sort of artisan colander collects the small molluscs holed up in the sand. And with them the memories of the people of Versilia re-emerge. Memoies that speak of the distant Roaring Twenties, but not in a nostalgic way, of when the Agnelli children dressed in sailor style and ate this particular clams by opening their shells directly on the shore. Because this stretch of coast has been able to grow while remaining faithful to its traditions, among which spaghetti alle arselle stands out at the table is one. Yes, because in Forte the coquina clams are simply arselle, from the late Latin word arcella, meaning a small coffer. A once poor ingredient, available for free just a stone’s throw from the water’s edge, at the cost of hands accustomed to calluses and little free time, just enough to scrape together at least three kilos which without shells meant about a four hundred grams of the clam meat. The clams’ celebration is always with plain spaghetti, a little wine to blend in and a sprinkling of parsley.
“A symbol of Versilia that embodies the simplicity and elegance of this territory”, says Valentino Cassanelli, a chef from Modena, for ten years at the helm of the kitchen of Lux Lucis, the Michelin starred restaurant of the Principe hotel, and of the Dalmazia beach club. We asked some chefs to propose a recreated version of the classic spaghetti dish and for the Dalmazia beach club Cassanelli chose a gnocco enriched with the flavor of cooked salt-baked potatoes . “To which we add bottarga to emphasize its marine origin and stracciatella, another typically Mediterranean ingredient,” explains Cassanelli. “In the middle, the classic white sauce flavored with ginger, garlic and parsley for a fresh and very recognizable taste”.
 Gnocchi di patate alle arselle con stracciatella e bottarga
In this game, Enoteca Giulia has gone even further, focusing on the perfect marriage that its menu has always celebrated between Spanish and Forte cuisine . “Clams are a poor ingredient, like paella. A people’s dish, made from what the farmers and fishermen had left over at the end of the day”, explains the reason behind Giulia Franchi’s recipe. “The base is that of Franca, my grandmother: a sauté with garlic, parsley and chilli pepper. After the small clams are added, the paella with saffron is prepared and the typical game on the stove’s burners takes over. At the end, glasswort”.
 “Paella fortemarmina” con arselle e salicornia
On the other hand, the Barca’s way is a lasagna with basil and fresh tomato added to the sauce . But the real question is: with or without shells? And also: parsley yes or no? With or without tomato? “Forte clams would be fine in their shells, as you want to add flavor! But now we do without them, so we don’t get our fingers dirty. My mother made soup with a lot of bread in it: it was family food”, remembers Piero Petrucci, the Barca’s owner.
 “Lasagnette casalinghe alle arselle alla moda della Barca” in salsa di arselline e pomodorino fresco
Memories, great richness of this small bivalve mollusc, together with the delicate flavor of summer. “A dish to be altered as little as possible, finishing off the cooking of the spaghetti in its sauce», adds Simone Andreano of Il Posto in Pietrasanta. «Finally, lemon zest and caper powder to extract the flavor of the sea even more. Parsley no, with capers, you don’t need it” .
 Spaghetto Felicetti risottato alle arselle e rifinito con polvere di capperi e limone
“The first flavors that must be perceived are the clams and their water. This is enough”, joins the choir Michele Mascia of the Bagni di Villa Grey, who from authentic Versilian to his spaghetti brought vivacity with the sea air to lime and bottarga .
 “Profumo di Versilia”: Spaghetto Ducato d’Amalfi, arselle versiliesi, aria di mare al lime e bottarga
All first courses, those reworked by our chefs, except for that of the Michelin-starred Alessandro Ferrarini of Francomare in Marina di Pietrasanta. “As a Lombard I have always considered spaghetti alle arselle a symbol of these shores,” he comments. “Trying to interpret it in a modern way, I recreated a casing to contain the clam. So here is the crunchy potato cooked in a marinade, served with a Jerusalem artichoke cream and white butter sauce” .
 “Patata e arselle”: patata croccante cotta in marinatura, servita con ragù di arselle, crema di topinambur e salsa al burro bianco
A waltz of creativity, ends the chef of the restaurant Alex in Tonfano, who gives us deconstructed spaghetti, inserted into buttons as a filling . “So, steamed and plated in an oriental style”, explains the owner, Simone Pancetti. “In the kitchen we no longer invent anything but we can update it to modern tastes and customs”. That is to say the world goes on, but spaghetti alle arselle never dies.
 Bottoni ripieni di spaghetti alle arselle
Many thanks to: Bagno Dalmazia, Forte dei Marmi | Bagni di Villa Grey, Forte dei Marmi | Enoteca Giulia, Forte dei Marmi | Ristorante La Barca, Forte dei Marmi | Ristorante Francomare, Marina di Pietrasanta | Ristorante Alex, Marina di Pietrasanta | Ristorante Il Posto, Pietrasanta