Day 126: The night ladies were on to a good thing

May 6, 2007

This evening we ate Spicy Shrimp and Penne with Puttanesca Sauce [recipe], which was one of the very rare occasions this year when a hypothetical desirable food choice for the evening aligned in a beautiful way with what we were scheduled to cook. I can always make way for pasta, especially with a good sauce, so this was perfect. This dish is fantastically easy and very flavoursome, and I really would recommend that even the most hardened anchovy-skeptic try it at least once. I can’t stand the fishy little bone-saturated things, they actually give me the creeps, but this meal is well worth getting past that reaction.

A hefty amount of olive oil is heated over a medium heat, and chopped garlic, red pepper flakes and the anchovies are added. Mushing the anchovies with the back of the wooden spoon means that they begin to break down and dissolve into the olive oil. This somewhat alchemic process is very satisfying as the icky fish bits drift away to who knows where. Diced and crushed tomatoes are added to the skillet, with capers and chopped black olives. When the mixture returns to a simmer, the prawns are added to the pan, with chopped parsley and the cooked pasta added to the pot once the prawns are cooked.

We had smaller prawns than those called for, but it wasn’t a big deal. The puttanesca sauce is complex enough that the prawns aren’t particularly necessary in this dish. Also we were mysteriously unable to locate the penne pasta, but had plenty of substitutes on hand so any disaster was averted. This meal is very substantial and satisfying, not mind-blowing, but certainly good enough to adopt into a regular rotation of quick, easy, very cheap meals. My sister-in-law spent a lot of time growing up in Italy, and she has often made puttanesca sauce when we have been visiting. She also makes a dish which I believe takes the first stage of this recipe- the olive oil, pepper flakes, garlic and anchovies are cooked together- then a mountain of fresh broccoli is added; also delicious. I have tried to recreate both of these dishes in the past without any success, as I had no idea what sort of amounts of each ingredient were required, and I didn’t bother doing any research before cooking. I think I used a whole tin of anchovies in a serving just for one, on two separate occasions, making a repulsively fishy concoction. Tonight’s recipe used only two anchovies per person, which did mean that the taste melted away to leave a nutty richness with a great depth of flavour. I would however say that the kitchen doesn’t smell too delicious just at this moment.

Tomorrow we redo this meal as Frutti di Mare and Linguine. I think it involves adding crabmeat and mussels to the dish- not sure if people with babies in tummies should eat mussels or not, which would be a shame as I do love them. Although in all honesty, I’ve never had the urge to ever cook them. I’ll try and remember to ask at my doctor’s appointment tomorrow.

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