Cap­tur­ing the sea in a pasta bowl

Seafood gen­er­ates com­pelling deep flavours rem­i­nis­cent of the sea­side right in your own kitchen, dis­cov­ers Yo­tam Ot­tolenghi

New Straits Times - - SUNDAY VIBES / LIVING -

IFIND the com­bi­na­tion of pasta and seafood so ir­re­sistible that I spend way more time than can pos­si­bly be good for me — or that I can jus­tify as pro­fes­sion­ally en­rich­ing — gaz­ing at screens show­ing creamy lin­guine with mus­sels and scal­lops, or spaghetti with shrimp in one toma­toey sauce or an­other. Just try the hash­tag #seafood­pasta on In­sta­gram, and you’ll know what I mean.

Beyond the im­ages, though, what makes th­ese dishes so com­pelling are the deep flavours gen­er­ated by seafood as it cooks, creat­ing a vir­tu­ally in­stant stock that emul­si­fies with the pasta’s starches. The abil­ity of th­ese sauces to coat, and the lay­ers of sea­side aromas they gen­er­ate, are what make me — and many thou­sands like me, I’ll say in my de­fence — sali­vate over a bowl of spaghetti alle von­gole peer­ing at me from a bright dis­play.

Von­gole is the most straight­for­ward take on this theme. The ver­sion you choose to cook, how­ever, can be as sim­ple or as com­plex as you need it to be. My em­pha­sis is on need. In my cook­book, Ot­tolenghi Sim­ple, which was pub­lished in the United States re­cently, I have made a con­scious ef­fort to cre­ate dishes that do ev­ery­thing I love to do with my food — it must be sur­pris­ing and multi-lay­ered, yet com­fort­ing and sim­ply good — while giv­ing peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to eas­ily fit cook­ing into their busy lives. You can cook for an oc­ca­sion from it, but you can also cook oc­ca­sion­ally, with far less com­mit­ment or ef­fort.

Writ­ing the book, I was sur­prised to dis­cover how a set of flavours that I love and con­stantly cook with can be har­nessed for to­tally dif­fer­ent pur­poses and for vary­ing de­grees of ef­fort or skill.

Take the clas­sic com­bi­na­tion of seafood, fen­nel and tomato.

My pearl cous­cous with shrimp, clams and tar­ragon is a re­flec­tion of my cheffy in­stincts. It in­volves mak­ing stock us­ing the shrimp shells. It also calls for cook­ing the fen­nel, prawns and toma­toes sep­a­rately and plac­ing the last two on top of the pasta, like a Spanish paella, dis­play­ing them in their unadul­ter­ated glory.

It’s de­li­cious and im­pres­sive — and likely to win you lots of In­sta­gram likes — but there’s a cer­tain com­mit­ment in­volved that makes it a spe­cial oc­ca­sion kind of dish.

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