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

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. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

      • 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. 🙂

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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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