Imagine the orange clouds and the red sun peeping out of the horizon after a long dark night …
In a previous post, I wrote about pasta being a canvas waiting to be painted. Most pasta are white or light colored which means you can only paint a certain type of picture. But imagine pasta enriched with squid-ink … it opens up a whole new style of dishes which can make for very elegant presentation and allows for some creative story-telling. A few days ago while browsing through the pasta, I came across squid-ink tagliatelle. It immediately caught my attention and my mind was starting imagining “A Starry Night” …. a very simple dish of the black pasta with grated cheese sprinkled over. But then I realized that it wouldn’t probably work very well , because of the shape and thickness of the noodle. I put a lot of thought on how to cook it but nothing really came up until one morning when I woke up pre-dawn and stared at the rising sun. I had visited an exhibition by Dali the day before and all the surrealist art may have messed up my brain. The clouds suddenly seemed like grilled shrimps and the sun looked like a cherry tomato!
I got to work that morning getting some fresh cherry tomatoes and prawns. The presentation was still taking shape in my mind but the flavor profile was still unclear. I needed the tomatoes to still retain their shape in order to draw the sun but it’d mean cooking them minimally. This would leave the pasta very bland. I couldn’t use a tomato sauce as it’d dull the black colors of the pasta. The answer was to cook the tomatoes 2 ways – the first would be the minimally cooked version forming the sun and the other would be slow oven roasted to concentrate the flavors (the tomatoes almost turn like raisins and becomes very sweet). To balance the flavor profile, the prawns would require a dose of sharp heat (smoked paprika and a bit a cayenne pepper), some coolness (mint and coriander) and a little acidity (lemon juice in the marinade and zest after the roast). This recipe is still in its infancy and would require a lot of work to perfect both the flavor profile and presentation. Would love to hear your suggestions and ideas in the comment section.
- Cherry tomatoes cut into half (about 80% roasted and 20% fresh)
- A few cloves of garlic
- Herbs (thyme, mint, parsley and coriander)
- Seasoning (smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper)
- Prawns (2 large or 3 medium per serving)
- Olive oil
- Squid-ink tagliatelle or tonnarelli
- Cut the cherry tomatoes in half. Toss them in olive oil, salt, pepper. Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet with a few cloves of garlic (you can keep the skins ... its just for the aroma) and a few sprigs of thyme. Roast it at 120C for about 3hrs or till the tomatoes have lost most of their moisture. Their flavors would be intensely concentrated by now and would almost taste like raisins (with a kick!). You can then keep the tomatoes in fridge for 3~4 days and the flavor gets even better.
- For the prawns, prepare a marinade with chopped mint, coriander (cilantro), smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, freshly ground black pepper, lemon juice and olive oil (don't add salt now). Ideally marinade them for about an hour (in the fridge).
- Take them out 20 mins before cooking. Crank up the oven to full whack. Place the prawns on a baking sheet, sprinkle some sea salt on top and roast for about 2mins on one side. Flip it over and cook for 45s to a min. Once this is done, the whole dish takes about 6 mins to complete ... so be ready. Timing it crucial for a great finish.
- Have boiling water ready to cook the pasta. Put them in and start the timer (I usually don't get fresh tagliatelle ... so it takes about 5~6mins to cook).
- In a pan, put the shrimp heads with some olive oil and a few cloves of unpeeled garlic on medium heat. Half the remaining cherry tomatoes and put them cut side down on the baking dish to soak up the oils that came out of the prawns during the roasting process.
- Mix the lemon zest with the prawn tails and squeeze in some lemon juice. Once the prawn heads and garlic are sizzling, put in the roasted tomatoes and toss them around for a minute. The goodness oozing out of the heads should begin to brown by now.
- Add a few spoons of pasta water to deglaze. With about a minute left for the pasta to cook, add the fresh halved tomatoes and warm them through retaining the shape and crispness. Put the pasta in and let it absorb the liquid (by now it'd be enriched by the prawn brains, the sugar from the roasted tomatoes and the pasta water-olive oil emulsion).
Put some of the roasted tomatoes at the base and the pasta over it. Put the remaining roasted tomatoes on the “summit”. The fresh tomatoes are arranged on the periphery. The prawn tails form a spiral on the “summit”. Drizzle some good olive olive oil and garnish with parsley.
P.S. I have also tried it with regular tagliatelle …. its not as dramatic as the black stuff. But you can still call it sunrise. “Sunrise … on a foggy morning!”