Monday, 27 March 2017

Spontaneous pasta

This one's a total winner because it's ridiculously fast, hugely variable, pretty damn easy, and relies mostly on store-cupboard ingredients.  I invented it when I was about 27 and living in Hythe Bridge Street, and me, Will, and my housemates got home at about 2 am, all thoroughly trashed, and everyone said they were hungry. And looked at me. Expectantly.

We decided the challenge should be to make the pasta sauce while the pasta was boiling (no extra time) and hence Spontaneous Pasta was born. I pretty much always have tinned tomatoes about, and pasta, and a few jars of olives (the cheap ones in brine, already depipped), that's the store cupboard stuff.  And then there are usually some herbs laying about the place and a chilli or two. And garlic. Always garlic. And really it mostly just gets blitzed up and thrown over the pasta to heat.

I sometimes forget about this for years and then sneer at the notion of it, and then make it again and realise OH HELL THIS IS HELLA TASTY. You don't actually have to make it at lightning speed while the pasta boils, but anything that can be made in ten minutes flat while drunk is fairly easy. And it tastes equally amazing sober.

STEP ONE: Get drunk with friends.
Feel free to calibrate the wine-to-friend ratio as required.
You don't have to be drunk to make this, but you can be.

For the sauce, you'll need (for 2-4 people)...
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 jar of olives (about the same amount as the can)
  • 1-2 chillies
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • A good handful of fresh coriander
  • Olive oil (probably 5-6 tablespoons - but you really don't need to be too precise)
  • Salt & pepper
And then you'll also need cheese to top it with, and pasta (about a man's handful per person). Basically you're going to blend up everything for the sauce together (but hold back half the olives and a few of the herbs to add texture and prettiness at the end) and once the pasta's boiled, you'll drain the pasta, throw it back in the pot, and throw the sauce in and put it back on the heat just long enough to warm the sauce through. You need to peel the garlic and roughly chop the chillis, but the blender will do the rest.

But honestly you can go wild with this and riff freely. Some possible variations...
  • Instead of coriander, any herbs you want. Go wild, try them all out, see what you fancy. Tarragon is very intense, if you fancy it. Experiment!
  • Cheese - sprinkling blue cheese on the top can be delicious! Or slices of brie. or camembert. Or feta. Go wild. (Tip: blue cheese and lemon like each other, a dash of lemon in the sauce will help the blue cheese sing.)
  • Chillis and garlic - more, less, or not at all
  • Ginger root - well, why the hell not? Give it a go. We already know ginger, chilli, coriander, and lemon like each other, from Mexican food.
  • Get fancy and actually fry stuff - occasionally I'll fry a few slices of pepper or courgette to throw into the sauce. I like to fry them quite hot, tossing regularly, so they get even a little bit blackened at the edges. Add anything you like. At all.
 And now... IN PICTURES!

If you're taking the Spontaneous Pasta Challenge / have friends staring at you meaningfully while they say how hungry they are and you're starting to fear cannibalism, get the pasta on first - the water on a massive rolling boil and enough space for the pasta to swim freely. Set a timer for ten minutes (or whatever your pasta packet says). Let the countdown begin!

Chuck ALL the sauce ingredients (except half the olives and a bit of the herbs) into a blender / jug or jar, and blitz it to puree. That's the chopped tomato, coriander, chilli, garlic, half the olives, salt and pepper, and a generous pouring of olive oil (about 6 tablespoons at least). You can also hold back half the tomatoes for more texture, if you want.

So... the sauce ends up looking pretty brown. It's not fetching. But it tastes AMAZING. And anyway, that's where the rest of the olives and the herbs come in, to pretty it up. And the other half of the chopped tomatoes if I'd remembered about that.

Slice the rest of the olives in half, you'll scatter them over at the end, for texture and prettiness. How's that pasta doing?

Get the cheese ready - grated or sliced or as required. For this one, I used half a log of goats' cheese for three people, because I'd actually planned it, but any cheese will do. If you have something tasty like feta or goats' cheese or blue cheese or camembert, wahey! If not, cheddar will do just fine. Or if you're vegan, no cheese / vegan cheese.

As soon as the pasta is al dente or just before al dente (it still resists a bit when you bite it, but not so much it's inedible), drain it, throw it back in the pot, pour the sauce over, put it back on the heat, and stir it until the sauce is warmed up - a couple of minutes max should do it.

Pop it in bowls, add your cheese, scatter your olives, accidentally create a half-blind monster with careless olive placement, realise you forgot to reserve some of the herbs for garnish and give a Gallic shrug, and serve, and be AMAZED.

As you can see in the picture, I got fancy-schmancy with this one and scorched some peppers for it, as well. If you're reasonably quick at chopping, you genuinely can do this bit as well while the pasta is boiling, because you want to fry the veg (peppers, courgettes, what you will) HOT and FAST, so they keep their crunch (more yummy texture) and have delicious crispy bits.


Being the privileged owner of a whole bag of peppers at the time, I had all the colours at my disposal, for added prettiness. And aren't they beautiful? That was the hottest ring on its hottest setting, and they took about five minutes, with plenty of oil and stirring every minute or so, to get that lovely char. Courgettes enjoy a similar level of abuse. So does broccoli, actually.

And EAT! And feed your friends, and get to live another day...

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