Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee
The shelves in my pantry are stuffed with many types of pasta - Chinese, Japanese and Korean (including instant noodles) - as well as Italian varieties such as angel hair, spaghetti, linguine, penne and conchiglioni. As pasta is a good, neutral backdrop for many flavours, I use it to make a variety of meals, depending on what ingredients I have on hand and how much time I have.
These Italian recipes are quite easy: the first takes less than an hour to cook (and that includes making a shrimp stock for the sauce); the second is a slightly more involved process, but it's not at all difficult.
Tagliatelle with saffron shrimp and baby spinach (pictured)
You need fresh, head-on shrimp (or prawns) for this dish; the heads and shells are used to make a flavourful stock.
16 fresh shrimps, about 10cm from tip to tail
80 grams butter, divided
2-3 shallots, sliced
120ml dry white wine
100ml shrimp stock
A large pinch of saffron threads
About 60 grams fresh baby spinach leaves, rinsed and drained
200 grams tagliatelle
Fine sea salt, as needed
Remove the heads and shells from the shrimp and set aside the meat. Place the heads and shells in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the solids through a colander set over a clean saucepan. Press on the solids to extract the flavourful juices. Put the saucepan containing the shrimp liquid over a medium flame and cook, stirring often, until the liquid is reduced to about 100ml. Add the saffron to the stock and let it steep.
Boil heavily salted water in a pan, add the pasta and cook until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce.
Heat 40 grams of butter in a skillet and when it's almost melted, add the shallot and cook over a low flame until soft. Increase the heat and add the white wine. Bring to the boil then simmer for a minute. Stir in the shrimp stock and cream, and simmer until the liquid is about the consistency of light cream. Add the shrimp and cook until they curl and turn pink.
When the pasta is ready, ladle off about 100ml of the cooking liquid. Drain the pasta but do not rinse it, then add it into the skillet that contains the sauce. Add the remaining butter and mix the ingredients so the pasta is lightly coated with the sauce. If the sauce is too runny, turn up the heat to medium and mix continuously. If it's too dry, stir in a little pasta water. Taste for seasoning.
Mix in the spinach leaves, divide the pasta between two plates and serve immediately.
I was in Bologna, Italy, years ago attending a conference on the country's cuisine. Although the organisers had planned many delicious meals for the visiting journalists and chefs, they did not - much to my regret - give us a taste of real spaghetti bolognese. The version I make, based on a recipe by Italian food authority Marcella Hazan, is enough to satisfy my tastes until I get the chance to eat it in Bologna.
30 grams unsalted butter
30ml cooking oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
80 grams onion, minced
100 grams celery, diced into 5mm cubes
100 grams carrot, diced into 5mm cubes
½ tsp dried chilli flakes, or to taste
200 grams minced beef
150 grams minced pork
Freshly grated nutmeg
250ml whole milk
250ml dry white wine
500 grams canned Italian tomatoes, chopped
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500 grams dried spaghetti
Freshly grated parmesan
Put the oil and butter in a large, heavy pan (preferably enamelled cast iron). Place the pan over a low flame and when the butter is half melted, add the garlic and onion then cook until soft and translucent. Add the celery, carrot and chilli flakes, and stir to coat with the fat. Turn the heat to medium and add the beef and pork. Cook, stirring often, until the meat loses its pink colour.
Season with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg, then stir in the milk. Simmer then lower the heat and cook until most of the milk is absorbed. Stir in the white wine, bring to the boil, then lower the heat and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed. Add the chopped tomatoes then bring to the boil. Turn the heat to very low and simmer the sauce for at least two hours, stirring often. The sauce should be thick and moist, but with very little liquid floating on top. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
Bring a pot of heavily salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and boil until al dente. Drain the pasta but do not rinse it. Put the pasta in a large bowl and ladle in some of the sauce - enough to coat it lightly. Divide the pasta between shallow bowls then ladle more sauce over each portion, sprinkle with grated parmesan, and serve.