A few years ago I spent the summer in the Mediterranean as a private chef. I trawled the supermarket aisles of Cannes, Rome and Parma. I lost my head (and my heart) in the fresh produce markets of Antibes and Zadar. I sought out the local boulangeries in St. Jean Cap Ferrat and Santa Margherita by checking out who was carrying what under their arms, and what direction they had come from. I was completely immersed in food, traveling around countries drenched in food culture.
The majority of my work was from a yacht, so the stock I kept on board needed to be smart, not to mention fabulous. The type of ingredients that at the drop of a hat could be effortlessly transformed into something memorable. Pasta became a staple, for its versatility and popularity in the region. I attempted to buy fresh pasta wherever possible, but found that when it came to the simpler pasta shapes: penne, spaghetti, linguine, there were some big European brands making phenomenal pasta.
De Cecco soon became my preferred brand for pasta and olive oil, and I’d haul a stash of heavy 1L glass bottles of fruity extra virgin gold and bags of pasta back to the boat, which each time seemed further away than at the start of my reconnaissance mission. I dished up bowls of spaghetti and meatballs splattered with passata and fresh basil leaves for the crew. I served orrecchiete with lemon marinated white anchovies & brocollini to guests from around the world. And each time the credit fell to the consistency & quality of the pasta & the olive oil. Read about how obsessive these guys are about every single crucial step of making pasta, and you’ll see what I mean.
I recently found De Cecco products in Cape Town and pounced on a bag of spaghettini and a bottle of the aforementioned fruity extra virgin olive oil. Here’s what I did with them…
What you’ll need… (Serves 2)
1/2 bag spaghettini pasta, De Cecco
1tsp rock salt
14 prawns, peeled, heads removed
2 cloves garlic, as fresh as you can find, crushed
1/2 tsp dried red chillies or peperoncino
1 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
1 bunch thin asparagus, trimmed and cut into short bite-size lengths
Grana Padano or Parmigiana Reggiano cheese to grate
De Cecco fruity olive oil to drizzle
This is how it goes…
Toss the salt in a large saucepan of water and bring to a rolling boil. Pull the pasta out the packet and grab the middle of the bunch of noodles with both hands and twist gently, as if you were wringing out a towel. Stand this in the pot of water and let go. The pasta will fall into a neat ring against the lip of your pot, and slide down into the water easily once it begins to soften. And please do not put a lid on the pasta pot. Excess starch and salt escape by means of evaporation, and adversely affects the texture and taste profile of your pasta.
In the meantime, heat a pan over a medium high heat. Cut half the quantity of prawn meat up into smaller chunks. When the pan is hot, toss all the prawns and the asparagus in with a glug of olive oil. Fry quickly to get a bit of colour on the prawns and turn the heat down to medium. Toss in the garlic and chilli next. Cook gently, making sure the garlic does not take on too much colour. If necessary, spoon some of the pasta water over the asparagus to get a softening process started.
At this point your pasta should be just shy of al denté; prepare to take it out. You really don’t want to overcook and spoil this stuff. Drain the pasta in a colander, and when pouring the water out try and leave just a little remaining in the bottom of the pot. Transfer the spaghettini back to the pot and return to the hob. Turn the heat off, and pour in your prawns and asparagus, as well as the dried breadcrumbs. In poorer parts of Italy, breadcrumbs are used as a substitute to cheese, as it coats each strand of pasta and gives it a similar texture, as if it were covered in parmesan. Try it next time you don’t have cheese at home.
Toss well with a pair of tongs, whilst pouring in some of the prized olive oil, and grating in some Grana Padano or Reggiano cheese. Serve in big bowls and finish off with a little cracked black pepper. I would have drank this with a chilled Provençal rosé, but I recently tasted a 2009 Napier Lion’s Nest Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blend that would pair perfectly with this dish.
If you’d like to get your hands on some De Cecco pasta and olive oil, contact Darryn Lazarus at Sagra Foods here.