I seem to be cooking just one pasta dish all the time: boil the noodles, throw a handful of greenery into the boiling water by the end, drain the lot and stir in some cheese/sauce/butter. Serve, or stick al forno for a while, if time allows. All thoroughly unorthodox, I’m sure, but plenty tasty.
At least I’m not committing the major crime against Italian food which is over-dressing. In Rome, good quality pasta is barely coated in sauce, the latter’s main raison d’être being to flavour the linguine or fusilli. In Birmingham it’s a bowlful of sauce worth about 1000 calories on its own, with a few overboiled pasta strands floating about.
It’s because we non-Italians refuse to grasp the concept of pasta, which is THE STARTER. Italians have completely the right idea about balanced meals: a salad to begin with, pasta for the first course and a protein dish, no more carbs, for the main. We throw all three courses into one by cooking spag bol served with mixed salad.
But things are looking up as all the rage of the moment is cacio e pepe – pasta with black pepper, no more, no less (because in Italy Parmesan or butter are such default ingredients, they needn’t even be mentioned). Who knows, soon we might even stop rinsing boiled pasta with cold water and quit ordering cappuccino after dinner…
prawn pasta bakeServings: 2Time: 50 minutes
- 50g (5 oz.) cooked and peeled frozen prawns
- 180g 6 oz.) large pasta shapes (calamarata, conchiglie, penne, rigatoni)
- 150ml (2/3 cup) double cream
- 1 tsp fennel seeds, ground in pestle and mortar
- ½ tsp grated nutmeg
- ½ tsp ground white pepper
- 30g (2 tbsp.) grated Parmesan
- 30g (2 tbsp.) grated Pecorino (or Manchego, Gouda, Old Amsterdam)
- 100g (3 oz.) fresh spinach leaves, washed
- black pepper, to taste
- butter for the dish
Place the prawns in a large colander, there’s no need to defrost them as you will drain hot pasta over them.
Put a large pan of salted water on for the pasta. Pour the cream into a small pan, add the fennel seeds, nutmeg and pepper and cook it on low heat for about 15 minutes (about as long as boiling the pasta), stirring occasionally. At the end of the cooking time stir in a third of both cheeses.
Cook the pasta according to the timing on the packet minus a couple of minutes. Add the spinach a minute before the end of cooking. When it’s ready, slug about half a cup of the pasta water into the cream sauce and drain the rest over the prawns. Return the lot, pasta, spinach and prawns to the pasta pan.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6.
Pour in the sauce, add the next third of the cheeses and toss well together. Season with ground black pepper to taste and transfer into a buttered gratin dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese lightly over the pasta.
Bake for about 30 minutes until crisp, golden and bubbling. Let it stand for 5 minutes before serving.