Paul and Sam Mincarelli were on vacation in Italy when they spotted a familiar friend at the grocery store.

“I was not expecting to find them on our side of the peninsula,” said Paul Mincarelli, who together with his wife opened Cafe Campli, an Italian restaurant on Harford Road, in 2022. “But lo and behold, there they were.”

“They” were blue crabs, or granchio blu as they’re called in Italian. Beloved in Maryland, the species has become an invasive headache for Italy’s fishermen since last summer. The voracious eaters’ population exploded in the northern part of the country, wreaking havoc on the local clam industry, which is one of the largest in the world. They’ve since made their way to Penne, a small medieval town in central Italy where the Mincarellis own a home and visit at least once a year.

In a bit of crabby diplomacy, the Mincarellis last week filmed a tutorial — in Italian — on how to pick the crabs and posted it to YouTube and social media.

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Italy’s leaders, including Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, have encouraged citizens to eat their way out of the blue crab invasion. But the bellicose crustaceans have confounded some Italian cooks. An AP video from last summer shows a chef cutting the crab open prior to cooking, unleashing an unholy mess of yellow mustard ooze.

“Obviously the Marylander in all of us was just freaked out,” Mincarelli said of those images. Typically, Marylanders favor steaming crabs before picking the meat from their shells, a somewhat labor-intensive technique that produces succulent chunks of sweet crab that taste delicious on their own, in crab cakes, or on pretty much anything else.

When he spotted the blue crabs at the market, he and Sam saw the chance to offer Italians a hands-on lesson.

It took two employees to get the crabs into a bag for the couple. A sales clerk grabbed a pair of scissors to try to pick them up, but the crabs, as is their habit, fought back. A butcher was called in for backup. They paid 3 euros, or just over $3, for two, one of which was extra large. “They’re practically giving these things away,” Paul Mincarelli said.

The store didn’t have Old Bay on the shelves, so they decided to use another pre-mixed seafood spice blend, as well as paprika, local chiles and, of course, salt.

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Back at home, they had to boil the crabs in an inch or so of water, rather than steam them. “I have a tiny kitchen and I’m working with what I got,” Mincarelli said. Still, “it came out pretty nice.” He called the flavor “cleaner” than that of Maryland blue crabs, and for good reason: “The Adriatic [Sea] is cleaner than the Chesapeake Bay.”

Without a mallet on hand, Mincarelli used a rolling pin to crack the claws open. In the video, he explains the importance of enjoying a crab feast with good friends and a cold beer. (Because there’s no Natty Boh in Italy, he recommends pairing the crabs with Ichnusa Non Filtrata.)

It remains to be seen whether Italian chefs will follow Mincarelli’s lead and choose to embrace their newfound blue crab riches, or if they will continue to crusade against the granchio blu invasion. The country’s cooks have been slow to adopt foreign ingredients in the past.

Hundreds of years ago, there was another New World food import viewed with suspicion. It would be centuries before everyday cooks began eating it with pasta. And yet today, it’s hard to imagine Italian food without the pomodoro, or golden apple — more commonly called the tomato.