The Serious Eats website recently hosted a tournament to determine the greatest pasta shape of all. Named Starch Madness 2020: The Big Al Dente, it left the final decision to us, the people, over six rounds of voting, and I was soon engrossed. Opinions ran deep, as did mine, especially when I found myself in baffled disagreement with the popular choice: how could penne rigate possibly make it to the final four when orecchiette stumbled in the second round? But before I let my pasta rage get the better of me, I chose instead to focus on the positive. Namely, the undisputed uniting force of a bowl of starchy comfort, which is just what’s needed right now. Buon appetito!
Spaghetti with (plenty of) lemon, garlic and anchovies (pictured top)
During lockdown, many people asked me for clever ideas for using up tinned fish, which everyone seemed to have too much of, though in my book, there is no such thing as too many tins of anchovy. Here, I’ve also managed to put a tin of sardines to good use. If you’re not that into tinned fish, however, don’t despair: try finely chopped capers instead of the anchovies and roughly chopped green olives for the sardines.
Prep 15 min
Cook 20 min
90ml olive oil, plus extra to serve
60g unsalted butter
8 small garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped (not crushed)
8 tinned anchovy fillets, drained and finely chopped
Salt and black pepper
400g dried (or fresh) spaghetti
1 x 120g tin sardines in oil, drained and roughly chopped (90g net weight)
6 spring onions, trimmed and cut into 3cm-long julienne strips
2½ tbsp finely chopped parsley (10g)
6½ finely chopped chives (20g)
2 lemons – 1 cut into 5 thin slices, pips removed and finely chopped, flesh, rind and all, the other juiced, to get 2 tbsp
Put the oil, butter, garlic and anchovies in a large saute pan on a medium heat and fry gently for eight minutes, until the garlic is soft and fragrant – you don’t want the garlic to brown, so lower the heat if necessary – then set aside while you cook the pasta.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then cook the spaghetti until al dente. Drain the pasta, then put in the garlic oil pan on a medium heat, add the sardines, spring onions, parsley, chives, chopped lemon and lemon juice, and toss to combine. Check the seasoning – depending on how salty the anchovies and cooking water are, you may need to add a pinch of salt. Divide between four plates, finish with black pepper and a drizzle of extra oil, if you need it, and serve.
Confit salmon pappardelle with cardamom and lime
Prep 20 min
Cook 1 hr 10 min
35g coriander leaves (from about 1 small bunch)
35g basil leaves
1 large salmon fillet, about 450g, skinned
Salt and black pepper
200g sweet red cherry tomatoes, such as datterini
2 red chillies, chopped widthways into 2½cm-thick rounds
5 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed with the flat of a knife
3 banana shallots, peeled and cut into 2½cm-thick rounds
10 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
300ml olive oil
75ml lime juice
400g dried pappardelle
Combine the herb leaves in a medium bowl. Dry the salmon well with kitchen towel, then season all over with two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt.
Heat a large saute pan for which you have a lid on a high heat. Once very hot, add the tomatoes, chilli, garlic and shallots, keeping them all spaced apart, and cook for eight minutes, turning everything once halfway, until it’s all nicely charred. Add the cardamom and two tablespoons (or 10g) of the fresh herb mix and char for another two minutes.
Turn the heat as low as it will go, add the oil, two tablespoons of lime juice, two teaspoons of salt and a very generous grind of pepper, then gently lay the salmon in the pan. Spoon the oil and aromatics over the fish, leave it on the heat for two minutes, then turn off the heat, cover the pan and leave the salmon to confit in the residual heat for 30 minutes, carefully turning the fillet once halfway. Transfer the fish to a plate and use two forks gently to flake it apart into large chunks.
Strain the remaining oil into a large bowl, pick out and discard the cardamom and herbs, and keep the remaining aromatics and oil separately. Don’t wash out the pan, because you’ll use it again later.
For the salsa, put 40g of the fresh herb mix in the small bowl of a food processor with 75ml reserved confit oil and two tablespoons of lime juice, and blitz to a smooth paste.
Cook the pasta until al dente, then drain, and reserve two tablespoons of the cooking water. Return the saute pan to a medium-high heat, add the drained pasta, reserved cooking water, strained aromatics and a tablespoon each of the confit oil and lime juice. Toss, gently heat for two to three minutes, then stir through the remaining herbs.
Transfer the pasta to a large platter, top with the flaked salmon and spoon over the salsa. Finish with plenty of black pepper and serve.
Pasta shells with burnt aubergine and tahini
The charred vegetables give this sauce a real depth and smokiness. If you don’t have a griddle pan, roast the other veg alongside the diced aubergine.
Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr 10 min
5 aubergines (about 1.25kg), 2 cut into roughly 3-4cm cubes, the rest left whole
165ml olive oil
Salt and black pepper
1 onion, peeled and cut into 6 wedges
2 small vine tomatoes (200g)
1 red chilli
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp paprika
7 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp lemon juice
300g pasta shells – I used conchiglie rigate
2½ tbsp finely chopped parsley
Heat the oven to 240C (220C fan)/475F/gas 9.
Put the aubergine cubes on a large oven tray lined with greaseproof paper, add three tablespoons of oil, half a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, and toss to coat. Roast for 30 minutes, stirring once halfway, until deeply browned and softened.
Meanwhile, prick the whole aubergines all over with a fork and ventilate your kitchen. Put a well-greased griddle pan on a high heat and, once smoking, lay in the aubergines and cook, turning as necessary, for 35 minutes, or until well charred all over, leave to cool slightly, then transfer to a bowl.
Toss the onion wedges, tomatoes and chilli in a bowl with a tablespoon of oil, then grill in the same pan for 10 minutes, turning the vegetables as necessary, until very well charred and softened. Transfer to a bowl, discarding the chilli stem. Once cool enough to handle, peel and discard the skin and stems of the charred aubergines (it’s OK if there’s still some skin attached) and add the flesh to the bowl with the charred vegetables – you should have roughly 320g aubergine flesh.
Put the tomato paste, paprika, three-quarters of the garlic and four tablespoons of oil in a small saucepan on a medium heat and cook for about six minutes, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant and the tomato paste has turned dark red. Transfer this and the vegetable mixture to a food processor, add three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper and blitz until very smooth. Tip the puree into a large saute pan and set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk the tahini, remaining garlic, lemon juice, 70ml water and a pinch of salt until smooth.
Bring a pot of very well-salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for eight minutes, or until al dente, then drain the pasta and reserve 275ml of the cooking water.
Put the reserved pasta water and half the roast aubergine in the pan with the charred aubergine mixture and heat through on a medium-high heat. Add the drained pasta and stir to warm through for a couple of minutes. Toss the remaining roast aubergine with the parsley and the last three tablespoons of oil.
Transfer the pasta to a large serving platter with a lip, drizzle over half the tahini, then spoon over the aubergine and parsley mixture and serve with the extra tahini alongside.