What’s Cooking Wednesday: Pasta with Snails alla Calabrese

Yesterday I wrote about my own personal weird food tastes, but it’s been a while since we’ve discussed exotic food in southern Italy, so let’s talk about snails (and for those of you who read through yesterday’s comments, no, don’t expect a ghiro recipe here any time soon).

Snails are lumache (loo MAHK eh) in Italian, and I’ve read that there are literally hundreds of different words for snails in the dialects of southern Italy; what the Badolatese in Calabria call a snail is lambehru (lam BAIR ooh), plural lambehri (lam BAIR ee).

Cute little words for such cute little things, no?

They don’t move as slowly as you might think, either. I had to keep coaxing these down the strainer between photos.

Anyway, back at the end of September, after a heavy rainfall, when the time is ideal for snail searches because they haven’t yet eaten lots of grass which can make them bitter (I’m told), P went out digging.

Yes, these are land snails (or I suppose garden snails), not sea snails; I’ve never tasted the latter so I can’t offer you any comparison.

I’ve heard that snails are a love it or hate it kind of thing. I have to admit, a few years ago I didn’t like them very much. Now I kind of love them, though, and P definitely does, so I’m always happy to have a dish o’ snails whenever the opportunity arises.

And the opportunity really only arises when P goes digging — these babies are truly a delicacy as a kilo of snails can cost upwards of 25-30 euros ($32-$38). Granted, that’s two and half pounds of snails (and that’s a lot of snails) but still, not cheap.

I’m not sure how other parts of Italy prepare snails, but this is the only way people seem to prepare them around here. So here is:

Pasta with Snails alla Calabrese
(Pasta con Lumache alla Calabrese)

  • One pound of snails
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped finely
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • Bunch of dried oregano
  • Salt to taste

1. Put fresh snails in strainer and let drip for at least an hour, more if you see they’re still purging. Some people even do this overnight.

2. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add snails. Let boil for about 10-15 minutes. As scum forms on the top periodically, remove it. When there’s no more scum, remove the snails from heat, drain, and rinse.

3. In the meantime, prepare sauce. Over medium heat, fry onion and garlic in olive oil, add tomatoes, and then, after it has simmered for about 15 minutes, add salt and oregano.

4. After a few more minutes, add snails, and let sauce cook for another 10-15 minutes until tomatoes taste done to you.

5. Note that some may choose to remove snails from their shells before adding them to the sauce; I’ve noticed that in southern Italy, at least, they tend to like everything cooked and served inside shells.

6. To eat the snails, use a toothpick to remove bodies from shells, and discard the dark coiled end, deepest in the shell, which is the gall and can taste quite nasty (although with these particular snails, P assured me that part was actually delicious, and I took his word for it).

Buon appetito!

37 Beans of Wisdom to “What’s Cooking Wednesday: Pasta with Snails alla Calabrese”
  1. I really like snails esp. with garlic and butter. I’ve had them mostly in french restaurants before I moved here.

    Since living here I’ve only had the sea snails. For some reason I never tried to cook with snails (maybe it seemed very complicated?) This recipe sounds (and looks) delicious.

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..What’s Cooking Wednesday – Italian Style Macaroni and Cheese

    I’ve never had them in garlic and butter, but I’m sure I would love it. If I already like the snail part, garlic and butter can only make them better 😉

  2. I think I could eat them if they weren’t in their shells – I spent too much time with snails in our garden growing up so I’m not really keen on slurping them out of the shells 🙂

    Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy’s last blog post..The Cheapest, Great Gelato with the Longest Line in Italy

    FWIW, if you use the toothpick, there’s no slurping. P likes to slurp though 😉

  3. Gil

    My Mom used to cook them in tomato sauce and serve them over pasta like you do. I don’t know if this is from her Sicilian roots or my Dad’s Neapolitan roots. Probably form my Dad as most of my Sicilian Grandfather was not a big seafood eater and his tastes usually ruled the table at that house.

    We used to buy snails that have been dried and gone dormant. We then had to soak them in water to bring them back to life before cooking.

    OK for some reason, dried, dormant snails sound weird to me–yes to me! Remember though, these snails that we had aren’t “sea”food at all 😉

  4. Ha! You beast… poor little snails. What am I gonna do with you, P and P? I’m *so* not showing him this blog post. He’ll want you to adopt him! 🙂

    Cherrye at My Bella Vita’s last blog post..Airline Warning: Lufthansa and AirOne Customer Service Complaint

    They should *so* go snail-hunting together 😉

  5. 11.12.2008

    Snails – great! But, dormice!!! They are an endangered species. Hunted in the autumn when they are putting on fat ready for hibernation.

    casalba’s last blog post..Mela Cotogna (Quince)

    Indeed; I originally wrote more about our experience with dormice, but I think it’s better to just leave it be (I can email you personally, though, if you didn’t catch my original response).

  6. helena

    Snails? Not happening. I’m not squeamish, I can eat a very diverse array of things but not this. I did have them once at a French restaurant, served with butter and garlic and a tongs thing to get them out of the shell. I felt really yukky afterwards.

    I am a firm supporter of not eating anything twice that made you feel ill once 🙂

  7. joanne at frutto della passione

    I agree with Ragazza, French style escargots are my favourite, but I’ll try anthing once. I have to say that the dish looks yummy. Next time you make it I’d be more than happy to come and help you eat it. I’ll bring the wine!

    joanne at frutto della passione’s last blog post..Eurochocolate revisited

    These were truly a “treat” for us…the last time we had them was three years ago! But if it comes up again, I’ll let you know 😉

  8. Scicchi

    My Dad used to tell us when my Pap would make sauce with snails, my Dad would get home from school and see them trying to crawl up the side of the pot, and he’d have to knock them back in. We always thought he was joking, just to mess with us…now I’m not so sure 🙂 He’d always finish with the part about sitting at the table, picking them out with a toothpick, that would always get the “EEEWWWWW!” reaction from us!

    I’d love to try it, but honestly I don’t know where I’d even find snails for sale around here!

    Saving the recipe though, just in case!

    They can be very ornery, apparently, about being boiled. Go figure 😉 I definitely never saw snails around growing up, not even in the ground! Of course I wasn’t looking either….

  9. 11.12.2008

    Your pictures are beautiful — those shells are gorgeous! — but my squeamishness about starting off with “live” foods — anything that’s trying to get out of the pot as I cook it — probably means that this is just something I’ll have to read about. It probably also means that I should just go with my vegetarian inclinations.

    anno’s last blog post..Ghosts

    These were particularly lovely shells, and believe me, I could not be present at the point of putting them in the pot 🙁

  10. 11.12.2008

    I try lots of things, but I have to put my foot down with garden snails. I actually did and it happened to be in my gardening boots in stockinged feet. Squelch!

    Scintilla’s last blog post..Phantom Neighbours.

    See now *that* for me is an eeeeeeew….

  11. carol

    Who knew???? every time we’re in Calabria, we’ve been scraping the little buggers off the walls, trees, fences and terrazzi. I’ve eaten *escargot*, but it never occurred to me that these wild things growing all over the yard were food. Next time, I’ll collect them for you. I’m just not sure I could actually eat them…..although my guys are more adventurous.

    I’m not sure whether they’re the “right” kind if they’re just hanging around, or maybe they’ve just been eating so we don’t want them? Boh. Anyway, thanks 🙂

  12. 11.12.2008

    Sorry babe. I am totally skipping the snails!!! Not a fan. What has happened to you? Where are my Italian pasta and sauce recipes? 🙂

    Oh yeah, one more thing. eeeeeeewwwwwwwww!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    My Mélange’s last blog post..Travel Photo Friday : Greece is the Word

    But this *is* pasta and sauce…with a little surprise 😉

  13. 11.12.2008

    Snails are one culinary road I’ve yet to travel on, but I’ll do it one day.

    We have an abundance of garden snails…it seems to be peculiar to our street. There are just snails everywhere in the summer. After rain, the menaces come out and ravage anything vaguely edible. My 89 year old neighbour, 50+ years resident, says that it’s always been the same. Snails everywhere.

    I’ve read about a three day snail purification process of capture, feeding on fresh carrot, purging and starving before cooking. It seems a lot of hassle, but then again, the snails are free, and these are frugal times.

    rich’s last blog post..Aagrah, Shipley

    Yes, I’ve heard of the purification process, even up to two weeks. That’s *a lot* of work, but yes, they’re a cheap meal 🙂

  14. 11.12.2008

    My two young sons just had escargot this year and they loved it. I ate snails similar to this in France when I stayed with a woman who would pluck them out of her garden! This brings back great memories.

    Zoë François’s last blog post..Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake with Sugared Cranberries! (The Apron Winner is…)

    Yum! Thanks so much for stopping by, Zoë.

  15. 11.12.2008

    I will eat them no problem, love with garlic butter.. from my french heritage, but when I had to cook them… they tried to escape from the pan.

    NO Grazie!
    hate when food fights back!

    Hah, you make an excellent point, Judy!

  16. 11.12.2008

    I don’t really like them except when they are done at the restaurant with garlic and butter, but I can’t have them at home! It wouldn’t be fair to eat them in front of the ones that live around my garden;).
    I remember when my mom used to make them in the tomato sauce when I was little. I cringe seeing them trying to crawl out of the pot……you should see my face…I’m cringing at the memory!!!

    lucy’s last blog post..REMEMBER!

    This is why I stay away from the pot 😉

  17. 11.12.2008

    I recall reading somewhere that before you prepare snails fresh from the undergrowth you should put them on a diet of I think it was oats to clear out their systems – and then prepare them – have you heard of anything like that. I often think I should subject all the snails in my garden to garlic butter – but somehow I just can’t do it, though I love eating them in restaurants!

    Absolute Vanilla’s last blog post..The Guinea Fowl Chronicles – Cat Attack!

    Yes, indeed, that’s what I’ve heard they do in many preparations; here they seem to just know when to “pick” them so that they haven’t eaten bitter herbs and grasses. In fact, as P told me, the only time they’ll go searching for them is after the first good rain in September/October. Other than that, they’re not interested.

  18. I read every word with fascination–I remember my mom telling me when I was a kid that she’d eaten snails and it fascinated me then too. THough I have eaten conch, which is kind of just a big sea snail I suppose. It was in a soup so I didn’t have to dig anything out of a shell which would probably be the part I’d have a hard time with. They sure are pretty–

    Maybe if we were to ever have snails here I’d actually give this a try on a brave day 🙂

    I think what helps after they’re cooked is that you really don’t see their shape very well–or at least I wasn’t looking too hard for it….

  19. 11.12.2008

    Oh my! Those look heavenly. How do you think they’d mail?

    Deb R’s last blog post..Time is standing still, well not really

    What you mean through…wait for it…snail mail?! Bwahahahahhahaahahhaa!

  20. 11.12.2008

    Dormouse…snails…I’m feeling faint…I bet you eat frutti di mare too!

    saretta’s last blog post..Dry at Your Own Risk


  21. 11.12.2008

    See, I would love this dish, but wouldn’t be able to do the boiling the snails part of it 🙁 Especially if they might climb back out. And my husband thinks snails are mushrooms (which he dislikes en masse, but since he is also very allergic to some, I can’t really say much) and is equally squeamish the food fighting its way back out of the pot … so no snails made at home for me:(

    City Girl’s last blog post..Thoughts on Writing – Meme on What and How I Write

    This is one reason I’m lucky to have P; he does all that kind of disgusting stuff and seems to enjoy it too.

  22. 11.12.2008

    Isn’t frutti di mare various seafood (clams etc?) – or is it something more specific.

    Literally fruits of the sea, so a mix of seafood as you suspected…and *delicious* 🙂

  23. Tina

    I’m going to make that! I love snails! Caracoles we call them here.

    Tina’s last blog post..What’s Cooking Wednesday – Spaghetti al Pomodoro

    Buon appetito Tina 🙂

  24. 11.12.2008

    Sorry Michelle, but no way will I be trying out this dish. Put them back in the garden! Save our snails.

    Sorry Delina; the damage is done. And speaking of damage, have you *seen* what snails do to gardens?!

  25. 11.12.2008

    Oh Michelle- I have not had snails in years. My Dad used to make them all the time- our fish market sold them…but that is many ,many years ago! Now- I have no idea- havent seen them here !
    I can almost taste them just looking at your post. I also loved when my father would roast them…plain and simple with salt over fire! Oh yum!
    Way to go P! Thanks for taking me back in time…I miss those days!

    Susan’s last blog post..Win Wall-E from 5 minutes for Mom

    Aw, glad to bring back such good memories Susan 🙂 And yes, I would imagine this is a taste that’s hard to forget 😉

  26. 11.12.2008

    I love the previous post …I want some “snail mail ” too!

    Susan’s last blog post..Win Wall-E from 5 minutes for Mom

    Hee hee…on the way! And it will arrive…someday 😉

  27. 11.12.2008

    EEEK. Snails.

    I’m trying to keep an open mind here.

    That’s all we can ask, Diane 😉

  28. 11.13.2008

    Um… sorry darling. You are all on your own for this one.

    *smiles brightly*

    But you know I just adore you!

    Scarlett & Viaggiatore

    Yes, I do; and that’s OK…more snails for me 🙂

  29. 11.13.2008

    Beautiful pictures, but that’s as far as I can go.

    Shan’s last blog post..what’s cooking wednesday – buffalo chicken lasagna

    I can respect that 🙂

  30. 11.13.2008

    This looks deliciously messy – bet you need to serve finger bowls with this dish!

    Absolutely Heidi! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  31. 11.13.2008

    With Pasta ? I like the sound of that anything with pasta is good 🙂 I too have only had them with garlic and olive oil. Hmmm I haven’t had them in years.

    I was surprised this is how they make them too, having only seen the French version (but not tasted it). Believe me, ’tis good 🙂

  32. 11.13.2008

    mmmm. i love escargot!! this with pasta looks and sounds amazing. oh i’m a little on the hungry side and wanting that plate of pasta for breakfast now.

    diva’s last blog post..Mum’s Yaki Udon with Shimeji & Shrimp

    Snails for breakfast…hmm…if I were hungry enough 😉 Thanks for coming by Diva 🙂

  33. 11.14.2008

    I’ve eaten snails because I’ll eat almost anything once, but I didn’t really enjoy them enough to say they’ve overcome the ick factor with me. Maybe I could just have a cheese sandwich with ketchup and mustard?

    flurrious’s last blog post..This Is My 44th Post

    Atta girl! Actually I didn’t care for them very much the first time I ate them either; they weren’t nearly as tasty as when P prepared them 🙂

  34. 11.14.2008

    What a delightful sounding recipe! I have always loved snails, but when I married last year my husband wasn’t sure he would. We had them once, and now he requests them everytime we are at a restaurant that has them…..and he’s currently looking over my shoulder telling me to copy down the recipe! Thanks!

    Kalee’s last blog post..Contemplations

    Hah! I hope you give it a try…just remember that depending on your snails, you may have to purge them for a longer period of time. They seem to guard against that here by only digging for them at certain times (literally once a year)!

  35. I haven’t had the good fortune to try snails done this way, but reading the recipe, I’m dying to try. It all sounds so delish!

    [eatingclub] vancouver || js’s last blog post..Grape Fruit Leather ("Roll-ups")

    I hope you get to try them…and be generous with the oregano 🙂

  36. 11.18.2008

    What a beautiful photo! I also LOVE snails, but I’m now deathly allergic – so I’ll have to pass on this one.


    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..Wow! And thank yous…

    Oh no! Allergic to snails! I suppose there are worse allergies, but still. Glad you got to enjoy them at one time at least 🙂

  37. 03.03.2009

    Oh my! I kept pet snails as a child, and yet the frugal gastronomer within me is seriously considering taking the path of snail-catching and cooking! These look great! Congratulations!

    Joanna’s last blog post..Apples + Pancakes = Apple Tart or Upside Down Cake?

    Oh they are delicious…hope you get to enjoy!



Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake