Rigatoni with capers, saltanas and anchovies

Fewer posts at the moment as I am spending my summer in Europe and you never have as many opportunities to cook (or such a desire to) when you are traveling. However, right now I am staying in Leuven, Belgium with my old friend Sebastian who is an amazing cook, and so I thought I would document a couple of the things he makes for me while I am here. Sebastian’s commitment to his food is amazing – I used to stay with him in Oxford where he would make his own pasta from scratch every day for lunch. When he moved to Belgium he actually carried his giant chopping board and massive, stone mortar and pestle with him in his suitcases!  He is a man committed to eating well and he believes that the best way to do this is to not eat anything processed and only use the absolute best ingredients.

This dish is unbelievably simple to make – it is very hot here and so we wanted to do something that wasn’t too rich and didn’t involve too much cooking. The trick is to use the best quality ingredients – the whole meal really rests on it. We made enough for two very generous servings.

So, first Sebastian minced two cloves of garlic very finely. He then pulled all the leaves off a bunch of basil and (putting the leaves to one side) minced the stalks very finely (they don’t taste too good if cut too rough). Finally, he minced three or four tiny red chillies. (Seb has a love for, and tolerance for spicy food which is beyond comprehension, whereas I don’t mind a little but would consider myself generally sensitive to too much spice. After much negotiation this was the amount of chili we settled on and it was very mild, even for me.) Then, in a small frying pan he heated up a decent glug of olive oil (probably half a cup’s worth) and added all the chopped ingredients.

Keep the pan going on very low heat and cook until softened but not browned. Then throw in a desert spoon of capers, followed by a small handful of saltanas. (For those not in the know, saltanas are just what non-Americans call raisins or, at least, the big juicy raisins – the little hard ones we call raisins). Seb used big, pale yellow saltanas, and these are what to hunt for if you can as I’m sure the slightly harder, dark brown ones that you buy in a box at the supermarket won’t have quite the same affect as they won’t absorb the other flavours as well.


(It is at this point that I would start boiling the water for the pasta.) Sebastian had bought some wonderful, big anchovies in garlic olive oil, and added around 7 to the pan which had been slowly cooking away on very low heat. He then squeezed in the juice of half a lemon, added a big pinch of salt, a lot of freshly ground black pepper, and a teaspoon of brown sugar.

Leaving this on for five or so minutes, he then mashed up the anchovies with a wooden spoon. (At this stage if you wanted you could also add some salted, chopped aubergine). He left it on for a few minutes, then added the basil leaves (roughly shredded) and immediately turned off the heat. Here is the man himself (stirring what looks like a child’s-size pot because the perspective of the picture went a bit funny):The last stages are pretty simple: When the pasta is al dente drain it, but leave quite of bit of the cooking water at the bottom of the pot. Add the sauce from the frying pan to the pasta pot (with the pasta and cooking water in it) and return to the heat for a few minutes – as the rigatoni cooks just slightly more it will absorb some of the flavours from the sauce. Then all you need to do is serve and add some grated parmesan.

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