Garum angel hair with spinach calamari fritto and red pepper pesto
Okay, this is broken down into a few things. Here's the overview of it. Take notes, there's a test later!
Got all that! Put it in a bowl and hit it with a hammer. That's how you make my dish! Ta-da!!!
- One large red bell pepper
- Two teaspoons olive oil (I used an oil impregnated with garlic and mushrooms)
- Teaspoon of dried oregano
- Teaspoon of dried basil
- Teaspoon of fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
- Cracked black pepper (maybe half teaspoon?)
- Pinch of kosher salt
- Handful of pine nuts
- Two teaspoons tahini
- 1/4 Roma tomato
Cut your pepper in half lengthwise, and lay in a pyrex or similar baking dish. See the seeds inside? We hate seeds! Yank them out and throw them across the kitchen with rage. Make sure you clean out any stowaways too. Now, along the inner flesh of both halves, spread your olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper. You have something that probably looks like this:
Preheat your oven to 450 and slap that sucker in for about 15-20 minutes, or until the skin on the bottoms starts to brown and pucker a bit.
While that's happening, grab your pinenuts and put them in a skillet on medium heat without any oil. Roll them around a bit until you get a good bit of browning on them:
Shouldn't take long at all, and once they start to darken up a little, take the skillet off heat and put them in a dish.
Have a beer. Relax. Maybe do some dishes. You can also take this opportunity to make the spinach batter for the calamari fritto.
Easy peasy, here's what you need:
- About a half cup of gluten free rice flour (add more to adjust consistency)
- About half a cup of water (keep this conservative)
- Big huge wad of baby spinach. (About two good fistfuls.)
- Two pinches of kosher salt
- Teaspoon of baking powder
- Half teaspoon cracked black pepper
- About a dozen calamari rings (give or take)
- Oil for frying (I use canola)
Okay, zip your spinach in a processor. I mean really go to town on it. You'll probably want to add a little of that water to the spinach so that you can keep the blades spinning and really get that stuff reduced into nearly a paste.
Looks like a green milkshake, kinda. That's good. We want the gorgeous color that the spinach has in it, and this is going to make a beautiful batter.
Add the salt, pepper, baking powder, and spinach milkshake to your rice flour.
If it's watery, add flour. If it's cakey, add water. The best way to test is to dip a ring of calamari into the batter. If it sticks in a generally uniform way, it's perfect. Either way, set this batter aside for now. You'll be using it soon.
Zut alors! Your peppers must be done by now!
Doesn't look like much changed, except for that shot of steam in your face and that wonderfully pungent pepper smell. Look at the skin. See how its dark and a bit pruney? Let this sit and cool for a while (PS get another beer). When its cooled to where you can handle it, flip each pepper half over in the dish and give the skin a tug. It should slough off almost entirely in one big piece. Throw that skin away, its work is done
Now, plop both halves of pepper, spices, and oil into your food processor. Add your tahini and piece of roma tomato, and puree. You want a nearly uniform pesto. It's okay to have a little chunk, but we want to keep that to a minimum. Once it's done in the processor, scoop that fire-red pesto into a dish and crush your pine nuts, stirring them inside. I didn't take a picture of this for some reason, but you will see the finished result later.
Now, back to frying the calamari fritto. I fry in a cast iron skillet but this is the sort of thing that a deep fryer would also work well for, or anything where you can add more oil. Start nearly at high temp. I choose canola because aside from being generally one of the healthier oils, its got a high smoke point, and tolerates a temperature that high. At any rate, you want it nearly at high temp, and then dial it back to medium high to drop your calamari in. This is going to flash seal your batter and allow for a slower, tastier cooking of the stuff within. Too often calamari is tough and rubbery, but it does not have to be. You're only going to have the rings in the oil for about two minutes, tops. Get them out and set them on a drying rack, like this:
Notice the green? It doesn't look like much, but wait for it in the final dish. Take a tiny pinch of fine-ground kosher salt and slightly sprinkle on each ring while it dries on the rack.
While your calamari cools, take about six stalks of asparagus, and cut the pale bases of the stalks off. In another pan, add just barely enough olive oil to moisten the bottom, and crush half a clove of garlic. Cook on medium heat for about five minutes or so, and remove.
While that's simmering a little, slice out about six very thin slices of roma tomato, and set aside.
Now, what are we forgetting? Angel hair pasta! The base of our dish! I hope I don't have to tell you how to cook pasta, BUT if you are that one person who has never done it before, you want a big pot 3/4 full of water on high heat, with a teaspoon of kosher salt as well. When it boils, drop in your pasta. I used a full pack, but I wouldn't recommend it as it made too much pasta for the servings I was going for. A half pack should be fine. You will stir the pasta and water for about two or three minutes, and then take it off high heat and put into a colander to shake out any excess moisture. Transfer that to a big bowl where you can toss that pasta, because we're going to add some oil and garum to it!
What is garum? GLAD YOU ASKED!
Garum is a family of sauces and additives that was popularized in the ancient Roman Empire. It's very similar to some southeast Asian fish sauces, and usually involves parts of fish, whole fish, fish guts, etc of whatever people had, put into a brining barrel, and left over the summer season to ferment.
Disgusted yet? Don't lose heart, fermenting is great! You wouldn't have that beer in your hand if you were afraid of a little fermentation! That magic of science that turns grains, yeast, and water into beer is the same magic that turns briney old fish leavings into fantastic flavor!
At any rate, the garum I use is a particular kind, called garum colatura. If you must know, it is made of gutted anchovies, and comes from Italy. It has an amber color, a lightly pungent, yeasty smell, and a salty taste, with an extremely subtle essence of fish. I take about two tablespoons of this stuff, and pair it with four to five tablespoons of my garlic and mushroom olive oil:
Add a bit of cracked black pepper, and toss that about until the entire batch of pasta has a glistening, oily patina. You'll catch faint notes of that rustic garum smell as you do it, and I guarantee you'll be anxious to finish this dish.
Fortunately, you're done! Arrange on a plate as you will (I suck at plating but that's something I'll get with repetition) and serve! With a half pack of pasta, it will be good for serving four people.
The dish, how do I describe it? Light. Very light.
The flavors here are all about freshness, and color is what I wanted. Nothing comes on too strong, and though even the fiery pesto was intended only for the calamari, you can dress the pasta with that directly and it doesn't crowd out the garlic, mushrooms, or garum taste. The calamari was very tender with a good crisp crunch to the batter, which is what you get from rice flour. To be honest, the asparagus and tomato aren't really needed for this, and were added as complimentary garnish. They taste great of course, but they're minor actors.