Easy crab chilli and rocket pasta

Crab chilli pasta title © J Horak-Druiff 2013

Isn’t it funny how we humans insist of describing various human characteristics by reference to animals? Take for example:

  • as brave as a lion;
  • as quiet as a mouse;
  • as mad as a badger;
  • as bald as a coot;
  • as dead as a dodo;
  • as blind as a bat;
  • as cunning as a fox;
  • as happy as a clam;
  • as mad as a bag of frogs.

Some of these make perfect sense:  mice are indeed quiet (except when they are in your ceiling when you are trying to sleep!); bats are indeed blind; and the dodo is very much dead. Others make less sense:  a coot has a perfectly adequate head of feathers; I’m not sure that anybody has actually ever attempted to interview a clam about his/her general level of happiness; and I would say that the person who puts frogs in a box in the first place is a whole lot madder than the frogs!

Apart from these nicely balanced similies, you also get animal-themed adjectives like catty, batty, bitchy, fishy, foxy, mousy and weaselly.  Or maybe you’d prefer bullish, kittenish, mulish, owlish, sheepish or sluggish. Or even asinine (idiotic), bovine (passive),  elephantine (huge), leonine (having a mane of hair) or porcine (fat, greedy). Each of them takes a characteristic of the animal (real or perceived) and ascribes it to the person in question.  In some cases the link is clear:  kittens are playful and silly – much like a kittenish person. Cows are passive – much like a bovine person. And if I describe a person as mousey, you are left in no doubt as to their appearance and personality.  Some are less obvious. Why, for example, would a crazy person be described as batty?  Bats seem to be perfectly functional animals with no particular heritage of mental illness? And are asses really that much less intelligent than, say, zebras?


Crab pasta close-up © J Horak-Druiff


One of the very first non-food bloggers I started following and subsequently befriended is the wise, witty, erudite and wonderful Ronni Bennett who has blogged thoughtfully about ageing and elder issues at her outstanding blog Time Goes By since March 2004 – a mere 2 months before I started blogging myself.  She first captivated me with her raw yet beautiful series on her mother’s final months which I read within a year of losing my own mother, and we soon became firm friends. On days when Ronni feels the need to vent about something particularly annoying, she writes under the pseudonym of Crabby Old Lady.  There you go again – another animal similie: crabby as in irritable, bad-tempered & unco-operative. Evidently, the use of the word crabby is a reference to a crab’s tendency to nip with its claws and it’s tendency to walk backwards or sideways, apparently making it a good metaphor for a difficult or unco-operative person.  Of course, this is probably entirely unfair to crabs, most of whom are probably deeply connected to the universe and concerned with their role in a civil and ordered society 😉

What makes me crabby is getting home from a holiday with a suitcase full of dirty laundry and nothing to eat in the house – which pretty much sums up our recent arrival back from our Norway ski trip late one Sunday night. Other than a packet of fresh rocket that I had randomly craved and picked up on my way home, it was going to have to be a store-cupboard & freezer meal – surely not a glamorous prospect??  But wait…  a couple of frozen crabsticks (yes, fake, pink crabsticks – so sue me) lurked in the freezer; there is ALWAYS pasta and pesto in the house; and a couple of ancient onions were rattling around the vegetable drawer.  The fortuitous result of these ingredients meeting up was this dish.  It’s super-easy to make; very budget-friendly; and far more glamorous than the effort or outlay involved might suggest.  Those trying to cut down on fat will appreciate its lack of dairy, and everyone will appreciate its light and zesty taste.  Nothing to be crabby about at all!


Crab pasta overhead © J Horak-Druiff 2013




5.0 from 1 reviews
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  • Pasta for 2 people (preferably flat noodles like tagliatelle)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • pinch of dried chilli flakes (more if you like it spicy)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • about 8 small crabsticks. shredded (or use real crab meat if you have)
  • 2 generous tablespoons of roasted red pepper pesto (tomato would be too strident)
  • 2 handfuls of fresh rocket leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water until it is al dente.
  2. In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a wide frying pan and add the onion and chilli flakes, Sautée gently until translucent but not browned.
  3. Stir in the crab and heat through, then stir in the red pepper pesto. If you want the sauce to be a little more liquid, add the water from the pasta, 1 Tbsp at a time.
  4. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary. If it is not hot enough for your taste, add a pinch of chilli or cayenne pepper powder and mix well.
  5. Drain the pasta and divide into 2 bowls. Top each bowl with half the crab sauce and a handful of rocket leaves and serve.


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  1. says

    Do you have bats in your belfry? Maybe that’s where batty came from? And I’ve also heard crazy as a coot – poor much maligned coots! I blame Aesop for much of it – all his fables did give convenient pre-packaged characteristics to rather a lot of animals. Maybe not coots…. but anyway it’s a theory!
    Felicitous impulse buy of rocket there and it sounds like a fantastic recipe to banish post-holiday blues.

    • says

      LOL – that is true – batty probably does come from there – so no reflection on the poor bat’s mental state at all, merely its flappy presence! And true Aesop has a lot to answer for (although, as you say, coots were woefully underrepresented in his stories 😉

      And I can certify that this recipe made me forget about the post-holiday blues entirely!

  2. says

    What a perfect meal, even with the cupboard fare and fake crab! I love all the ingredients and this is really a great and tasty fast lazy-night meal. Our favorite kind. A bowlful of happy, indeed.

    And the other thing is – just when I wonder if you’ll ever run out of topics to write about, just when I wonder how long you can pull out another clever blog post, there you go doing it again. I love this one. And JP does have a t-shirt (yes, one I bought him) that says “Don’t bother me, I’m Crabby!”. And I absolutely love “as mad as a bag of frogs”! Don’t think I’ve heard this before but I am so going to start using it!

    • says

      I know – fake crab – who knew?!? Had some leftover from using it shredded in emergency canapés and had tossed it into the freezer before we went away. It’s actually perfectly tasty if you bear in mind that it isn’t actually crab 😉 And it does make the dish super-affordable! Glad you lke the post – sometimes *I* don’t even know where the post is going to go before I put fingers to keyboard LOL!

  3. says

    Okay so I am appreciating this yummy recipe, it looks perfect for a spring lunch… but also appreciating the photography its a lovely composition, colours and textures well captured. Love it. Will be learning from you on my journey :)

  4. says

    A perfectly wonderful example of a pantry meal and a little bit of fresh greens. Your similies reminded me of the scene from A Christmas Carol. Delightful!

    • Jeanne says

      Funny – the rocket really lifted the whole dish for me :) And love that my post reminds you in any shape, manner or form of Dickens! Day made!

  5. says

    Light and lovely Jeanne. I love these cupboard staples recipes (and it reminds me to make some more pesto). Thanks for sharing the recipe xx

    • Jeanne says

      I love my cupboard staples too! They have saved the day on many occasions (and nothing beats homemade pesto, except perhaps Pesto Princess ;))

    • Jeanne says

      Glad you like it – it’s DEFINITELY worth trying :) And Ronnie & her blog are treasure – you will spend many happy hours there!

  6. says

    Don’t you just love these dishes that can be thrown together with little effort. I should broaden my on line friendships and follow non food bloggers.

    • Jeanne says

      I love low-effort, high-impact dishes like this! And yes, I often wish there were more hours in a day so I could discover more non-food bloggers – there are some fantastic writers out there, but we get so stuck in our food niche…

  7. says

    Sometimes pantry meals are the best – especially when they’re delicious and we can feel just a bit smug about the creation – Well done! And don’t forget ‘slippery as an eel’.

    • Jeanne says

      Of course! Slippery as an eel! And yes, I do feel a little smug when I make a good store-cupboard meal – both in a “look how well I can eat from these meager resources” way, and in a “woo hoo – look I removed another tim from the cupboard/Tupperware from the freezer and made some space!” way 😉

    • Jeanne says

      Thank you! It started out as a store-cupboard meal of desperation, but ended up being something I would happily serve at a dinner party!

  8. says

    Haven’t heard of the clam version – we say ‘as happy as a lark’ which makes me think of someone soaring up into the sky with happiness.
    I’ve never managed to eat one of those crab sticks – the look of them always puts me off. You’ve transformed them with this dish – very impressive if you rustled this up on your return. I’m sure I would have called home delivery :)

    • Jeanne says

      Indeed – I know happy as a lark (also the one about the pig in… well, you now what!!) but the clam I only learnt when I came to the UK. Apparently it is a contraction of “happy as a clam at high tide” when they do not have to worry abotu being picked off by marauding seagulls of humans! The crabsticks were knocking about the freezer as leftovers from a snack for a dinner party – shredded in a spicy sauce and heaped on crackers. Properly disguised, they are quite palatable 😉

  9. says


    I noticed a lot of people stopping by my website from yours so I thought I should find out why – and what a lovely shoutout. In addition, as it happens, it is crab season in Oregon and they are much cheaper than usual so I had just bought a couple.

    I’d picked all the meat and thought I’d make crab cakes, but then I saw this recipe of yours and let me proclaim: it is delicious. Couldn’t find rocket here (often called arugula in the United States. In Oregon they seem to think it is not a salad green but an herb so you can buy it only in tiny quantities for very high prices.

    Instead I used red leaf lettuce and upped the pepper content. Like I said, yum-mee. Loved it so I’ll put it in regular rotation when crab is available.

    Thanks too for all the animal characteristics. Great list. And for what will become my answer now when anyone sniffs at fake crab when the real thing is not in season.

    • Jeanne says

      Hi Ronni! Thrilled that I managed to send some new visitors your way. It’s so easy for us foodies to develop foodie tunnel vision and only visit other foodies. Even if I don’t comment much, I do read your site still, after all these years (!) and it is a firm favourite (and I’m not only saying that because I love it when you show off Ollie!). I so envy you your crab season… I must make a plan to actually visit one of the relevant US states during crab season. And if you do ever tire of this recipe (unlikely!), I also have a v simple crabcake recipe and a low-effort, high-impact recipe for crab-stuffed Portobello mushrooms on the site 😉