One of my favorite dishes at Francescana, and I had it both in Istanbul and in Modena this year and it is excellent!
The pasta cooking is straight forward, and if your pasta breaks, then you possibly overcooked it, or you turned it too much with the expectation that you would gather more flavor and sauce.
In the recipe of Francescana, the chef cooks it like a risotto: he adds fish stock liquid (a broth) and waits until it evaporates and adds more liquid until the pasta is cooked to perfection – a risotto styled preparation.
The spaghetti must be able to absorb the creamy sauce without losing its bite (al dente) and without getting damaged in anyway.
The secret is to boil your spaghetti in some salted water until pass the half way mark. Then remove it from the water and add it to the pan with the some fishy stock, so it absorbs the flavors while cooking. This takes some experimentation to get it right, which you’ve already done Daniel.
Once you drain the spaghetti, return the pasta to the pan with the colatura di alici and some lubrication, i.e. a touch of virgin oil. You are adding the fish broth and reducing the pasta on a medium/high flame and don’t forget your colatura di alici. The pasta is spread throughout the pan, and you can have a slightly higher pan rim than you normally use to manage the cooking process more easily.
You have a good concentration of pasta and liquid in the pan, and you are required to test it as you go along. Sampling the pasta as you’re cooking it, to access how much time to go until you need to add either more liquid, or the finishing touches, i.e. cream and parsley. Don’t over cook the pasta.
The garlic cream is then added and the stirring is complex or easy, all depending on how gentle you are and which tools you use. Remember the more you turn the pasta, the greater the chances it breaks, so you can work the pan by gently twisting the pasta by using a circular pan motion, or turn it by using the appropriate kitchen fork utensil. But pay attention as the pasta gets cooked or you risk over cooking it, and if you go too far the pasta is ruined.
Be careful not to agitate the pasta too much – it takes some practice and find the right amount of pasta versus sauce. Once you get the pasta cooked to the finishing stages, you add the creamy pesto mixture to coat the pasta. You want to have the pasta lubricated, so it cooks and absorbs the sauce and depending on parsley content – more parsley the more green colored the finished pasta will be.
If you have too much pasta in the pan and you over crowd it, you may be inclined to try to mix the pasta more, and that can cause the recipe into a disaster of broken pasta.
Think of the dish as building blocks; you are cooking pasta in the fish stock liquid, until it’s almost ready and the liquid has almost evaporated. You added the colatura di alici which the recipe says at the beginning of cooking.
I would finish the pasta by adding the garlic pesto pine nut cream and parsley pesto, all at the last minutes. The cream and parsley (in my view) should be added at the end, so it coats the pasta, and gives it a rich look. Any excess liquid will make the creamy mixture look diluted but be careful to find the right balance between liquid and cream.
The key is “the right look” otherwise you get a “bad-looking pasta”, and do not use the pasta thongs as they are useless, and this pasta tool should be abolished! You can use a larger sized fork and manipulate the pasta onto the fork, and carefully slide it off onto a plate. Serve it individually, a professional kitchen they often use ‘straight long pasta tweezers’ and twist it to perfection.
Go slowly, plan the pan and quantity of pasta and remember to make this dish a success, you must not serve too much of this pasta – a good taste will do to keep the customers smiling and dreaming of next time.
Yes, add the parsley pesto at the last stages so the pasta looks dry and not too wet, the idea here is to find the perfect balance between the cooking time, evaporation of the liquids and the adding of the finishing ingredients.
Lastly, I would consider to add some thin slivers of fresh red peperoncino, or put it on the side for those hot lips. I am talking about a small quantity per serving, enough that you have taste/color contrast that adds another dimension to this dish. Alternatively you can add some dry peperoncino to the dry bread crumbs for contrast and zing.
The top photo is the pasta from Francescana Istanbul and the other photo is Francescana Modena – more parsley used in Modena.