spaghetti and crabs – you won’t be crabby after this dinner

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When I was a kid, we’d go crabbing, as a lot of folks do on the East Coast, and we’d catch some fresh crabs and take it home, and Mom would turn it into this unbelievable crab gravy – or, as they say, sauce. Frankie Avalon

Hi there,

A summer time tradition for South Philly Italian-Americans was to rent a house at the Jersey Shore, usually in Wildwood. The highlight of that summer vacation was a spaghetti and crab night. Crabs were caught or bought. The delicious crustaceans were cooked in an fabulous red sauce. Then everyone sat down to a feast at a table set with newspaper and crab crackers. After everyone feasted on the crabs came a bowl of spaghetti that was covered with the incredible crab sauce.

My friend Roe, who is my go- to source for all things South Philly, shared her Nana’s story and recipe. And now I am sharing it with you. Enjoy!

 “My nana lived to 2 months shy of 105 yrs old. Born on July 4 th 1902 . ( she died her hair black until 98 yrs old,) 😂She was a phenomenal cook and just wanted people around to feed . She made the cover of the Courier post when turning 100 yrs old and was quoted as saying her secret to a long life are the simple things of enjoying  family , friends and good homemade cooked food. She would never go out to eat.  She and my mom made me so many wonderful meals . I hope my daughter, Liza, continues the tradition.”

“This dish is so tasty and I make it every summer. Everyone in my family wants an invite when I’m making this dish. I can have 20 people in no time. This is a messy version of a table in my rental last year.  I was missing my serving dishes but “make do “ is my motto. No one cared about the table setting ,it was all about the food.  My grandson ask me if we are having them this summer at our shore rental and of course ,I said, “yes!” He had a big smile on his face.” 

South Philly Crabs and Spaghetti


  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup of EVOO
  • 1 bunch of basil, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp dried chili flakes
  • 2 cans (28 ounce each) San Marzano tomatoes
  • 6 whole cleaned crabs
  • 1 can of jumbo lump crab
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 4 tsp salt
  • 1 lb of spaghetti


  1. Add the onion, garlic, chili pepper, basil and olive oil to a large pan
  2. Cook until the onion is translucent and tender
  3. Increase flame to high heat and add the whole crabs
  4. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes
  5. Crabs will start turning a bright orange color and begin to caramelize
  6. Deglaze the pan with the white wine for roughly 3 minutes
  7. Add the tomatoes and salt
  8. Lower heat to slow simmer and continue to cook for 2 hours
  9. When read to serve, cook your pasta al dente
  10. Add the can of crab meat to the sauce and cook only until it is warmed
  11. Drain your pasta and add the pasta to your sauce or ladle over the sauce.

I hope you have enjoyed meeting Rose Calandra and maybe you can find some crabs and try this summertime favorite.

Talk soon, ❤️💕 Bernadette

43 responses to “spaghetti and crabs – you won’t be crabby after this dinner”

  1. I think I’ve finally discovered who you are!:). I’ve had comments on my blog but had no idea who you were! Your link when you comment goes nowhere. It is blank sadly. So hopefully I’ve found the right person. Cheers

  2. Btw what on earth do you do with the six whole crabs? I don’t think your recipe says other than put them in the saucepan. Do you then have to pull them apart or what? Cheers

  3. Sherry, the crabs are cooked in the sauce. They are then taken out after they are cooked and put on the table and everyone takes one, cracks the shells and eats the crab meat. This is a very messy meal, hence the newspapers.

  4. That’s looks delicious. Love the story with it. My family had a summer home in Bristol, RI and we would go down the street to the ocean and collect periwinkles, mussels, dig clams and cook them in tomato sauce and feed the large numbers of family and friends who would show up every Sunday. Great time and memories

    • It is funny how Italian immigrants took recipes from Italy and changed them to fit the environment they found themselves living in Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      • It’s funny just yesterday I went with my cousins to see both of our grandparents houses and reminisce about our summers together. The neighborhood changed so much as well as the houses. We would collect periwinkles, then grandma would cook them in a spicy sauce and we would use hat pins to pull them out of the shells to eat them. Such wonderful memories. Both Maryann and Mary-Jo had come over to buy my second book which is filled with stories and photos as well as recipes

  5. Your grandmother was a long-lived woman with an extraordinary natural talent for good home cooking, according to your recipes. This plate of spaghetti with crabs looks delicious. I hope your daughter continues the tradition so she doesn’t miss out on the family culinary tradition. Greetings from Chile
    Manuel Angel

  6. Dorothy's New Vintage Kitchen – I'm a writer, cook, gardener, photographer, poet, quilter, and accomplished daydreamer. I'm also a wife, mother, grandmother, sister. cousin, aunt, and friend, no particular order on any given day. I've been a writer all my life, newspaper reporter and columnist, radio news writer, and magazine contributor, and poet and short-story writer as the spirit moves. Now, I turn my attention to my cookbook, the blog, and a cooking column "Memorable Meals," which runs in our county newspaper. Besides my family, I love dogs, cats, good coffee, chocolate, and my never-dwindling pile of books I intend to read. Our family ran a small Vermont Inn for 18 years, with our focus on local, organic ingredients. I cook from scratch, and try not to use anything that has ingredients I cannot pronounce! After many years of daily serving up local delicacies, cooking classes, and catering, we are now only open for special events, and the odd cooking class. We also host musicians and artists, having helped produce a musical festival and other musical events for nearly 20 years. Many incredible artists have found a place at our table. Wonderful experiences, we will treasure always. My family and friends are my practice subjects. With a family that includes nut, peanut, tree fruit, and vegetable allergies, gluten intolerance, dairy intolerance, vegetarians, vegans, heart conscious, and a couple of picky eaters, there has to be a few quick tricks in the book to keep everyone fed and happy! Personally, I do not eat red meat or most full-fat dairy (usually) for health reasons, making the occasional exception at Thanksgiving and Christmas or our anniversary if the duck is locally raised. I do eat fish and seafood, so I try to come up with alternatives and substitutions when available. I serve local organic eggs and cheeses to my family who can tolerate dairy (My husband recently had a heart attack, and I need to watch my own cholesterol so I am careful, but have been known to let a little piece of really good cheese accidentally fall on my plate!). I believe strongly that eating in a way that is good for our planet is also good for our bodies, and I try to educated myself about our food sources! I cook by the seasons and draw on inspiration from the strong and talented women in my family who came before me, as well as the youth in the family who look at the world with fresh eyes. Food links us all, whether sharing a meal, cooking it together, or writing about it for others to enjoy. I love taking an old recipe and giving it a modern spin, especially if I can make it a littler healthier and use foods that are kinder to the Earth and to our bodies. I believe strongly in sustainable, delicious eating of whole foods, and the wonderful flavors we have at our fingertips! And finally, I love conversing with all the talented cooks and chefs out there who dot the globe! It's a wonderful, world full of culinary pen pals, and I cherish them all! XXXOOO Dorothy
    Dorothy’s New Vintage Kitchen says:

    What a lovely recipe, story, and tradition! Your grandchildren will not doubt continue this on! Thank you Bernadette!

  7. Time Traveler of Life – Where my Motor Home is! – Biography Creating worlds, characters, and wielding power like a madwoman, making my characters happy, sad, angry, and some of them with no redeeming qualities. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I sometimes laugh out loud when I am writing a scene, and I have been known to cry when one of my favorites has to die. I am a left-handed Gemini, what do you expect? Reading bedtime stories to my two children until they fell asleep or until they just told me to go away, was fun. Making up wild stories for my grandchild, and creating Halloween costumes from Cowboys to a Dragon, was another favorite thing to do. I missed that so much when they were grown, that I started writing. My yearly newsletters frequently were drafted third-person by my Love Birds, Miranda our motorhome, and by Sir Fit the White Knight, our faithful Honda. Throughout the years, some of my creative talents centered around writing letters of complaint expressing my displeasure with services or products. One crucial, at least to my Son, was a note to our local school bus driver petitioning her to allow him back on the bus. He was kicked off for making an obscene gesture at his buddy. I reminded her that it was not directed at her, and that “obscenity can be in the eye of the beholder,” kids use that gesture as a greeting. He rode the bus until he graduated. I loved driving my English teacher crazy. Leaving a “continued next week” at the end of my five handwritten pages required each week. He was one of many people that suggested I “do something about my writing.” I graduated from the School of Hard Knocks at the top of my class. After 30 years, in the trenches as a Real Estate Professional, I have found that truth is stranger than fiction. My books are filled with characters I met in that profession. Their names were changed to protect the guilty. Others were from people we met traveling around the country in Miranda, our Motorhome. I am married nearly 60 years to the love of my life, Shirl, and partner-produced two exceptionally talented children, and one grandchild who is our pride and joy.
    Time Traveler of Life says:

    This sounds scrumptious! Being from Maine, we had eaten our share of crab, lobster, and clams. Many time right on the coast in water from the ocean. If getting crab is doable here in AZ I will try this. Thanks for posting!

    • What a beautiful part of the country you grew up in. And now to live in a totally and equally magnificent vista is wonderful. So many different things to eat in Arizona.

  8. Jacqui Murray – Laguna Hills, CA. – Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Savage Land.
    Jacqui Murray says:

    This sounds amazing. I never would have put those two foods together.

  9. Chef Mimi – As a self-taught home cook, with many years in the culinary profession, I am passionate about all things food-related. Especially eating!
    chef mimi says:

    wow. Oh you people who live in new england!!! I’m so jealous!!! Great recipe, great story.

    • Mimi, I live in New Jersey which despite all the kidding about our state is a fabulous geographical region for food. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend.

      • Chef Mimi – As a self-taught home cook, with many years in the culinary profession, I am passionate about all things food-related. Especially eating!
        chef mimi says:

        Wait, is that not considered New England? Ooooops!

      • Someone from Maine would never want to be in the same category as New Jersey. That’s what makes America great and rough at the same time.

      • Chef Mimi – As a self-taught home cook, with many years in the culinary profession, I am passionate about all things food-related. Especially eating!
        chef mimi says:

        Hahahahahaha! On the other hand, that’s kinda sad 😕

  10. Beautiful story, beautiful patriotic mother who recognized the greatness of living in the USA, delicious recipe, and great photo of the table. That’s evidence of a meal enjoyed by all!

  11. the Painted Apron – Life is all about creativity for me, as long as I'm creating something I am happy! I hope I will inspire your daily life and give you ideas for your own wonderful creations!
    the Painted Apron says:

    It is amazing how one favorite family recipe can bring generations together over and over again. What a wonderful tale about a very special wise woman! The crab spaghetti sound amazing!

    • Judy, if you ever do come East and want to enjoy the crab bonanza, come in the summer. Blue claws, soft shells, hard shells are all plentiful this time of the year and sometimes even affordable.

  12. D. Wallace Peach – 30 Miles beyond the edge of civilization, Oregon – I'm an adventurer in writing, peering under rocks in my garden for secret magic. I can't stop writing. My stories want to explode from my head. They demand my attention and surge from my fingertips faster than I can put them to paper. I love what I do.
    D. Wallace Peach says:

    Oh, can I come over too! Lol. I’ve never considered a red crab sauce over pasta. Wow, Bernadette, that sounds way more tasty than the scrambled eggs and toast I’m eating at the moment. I enjoy anything “crabby” and will try this out. What a fun family feast!

    • Dianne, if you ever decide to leave that beautiful part of the world you live in, please come to New Jersey in the summer and we will talk Roe into making the dish for us.

      • D. Wallace Peach – 30 Miles beyond the edge of civilization, Oregon – I'm an adventurer in writing, peering under rocks in my garden for secret magic. I can't stop writing. My stories want to explode from my head. They demand my attention and surge from my fingertips faster than I can put them to paper. I love what I do.
        D. Wallace Peach says:

        Lol. I used to live in Vermont, and as a kid we vacationed on the New Jersey beaches. Oh how I miss the steamers! But we have nice Dungeness crabs here, perfect for the recipe. 🙂

  13. Great story and recipe. Rose was quite a woman- Beautiful and strong and a darn good cook! My family and I still go to Ocean City New Jersey for a week in the summer (not too far from Wildwood) despite the fact that we’re all spread out around the country. And we love to eat crabs and spaghetti!

  14. How did you ever come to choose Ocean City? I had a home in Ocean City for several years. A fun. place to relax and spend family time. Have a wonderful weekend.

  15. vanva – Virginia, USA – I am a writer, mother, teacher, traveler and am unreasonably competitive at trivia and card games.
    vanva says:

    Hi Bernadette, I live in the Tidewater (Virginia Beach) area, and I love this idea:))) Thank you for sharing:)

      • vanva – Virginia, USA – I am a writer, mother, teacher, traveler and am unreasonably competitive at trivia and card games.
        vanva says:

        Thank you – we are grateful to be here. I always love to hear how other parts of the country/world use ingredients. It’s very inspiring.

  16. I could eat this anytime if only I had access to the crabs. ☹️ It looks delicious Bernadette!

  17. The Wheelchair Teen – I am a black, disabled teenager and my blog shares my personal experiences, some of the struggles and triumphs I’ve been through, as well as posts that educate people about disabilities to help end discrimination against disabled people.
    The Wheelchair Teen says:

    I’d never heard of crab spaghetti before but it looks absolutely delicious. Thank you for sharing such precious memories with all of us, from the way that you’ve described it, those must have been some incredible nights ❤

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