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22 March 2011

Strozzapreti With Prawns & Asparagus

I like my pasta cooked al dente and strozzapreti is a kind that never fails to maintain the firmness I look for.  For that reason, I can be quite strict in following the number of minutes in cooking any kind of pasta.  One of my indispensable companions in cooking pasta is the timer.  To be truthful, I find it irksome to keep on checking the pasta every minute to check if they're already cooked or not because I burn either my fingers or my tongue. 

Coming to Italy, I had to reprogram my pasta cooking procedures completely from the initial to the final phase.  Apparently, there is a different world behind these seemingly simple food.   As a general rule, pasta dishes should be served immediately, as soon as they are taken out from the pan, except for the cold pastas that are served in summer.  

On the very first dinner that my husband and I hosted when we moved in to our new house, I was turbulent.  I didn't know how to time the innumerable courses, five in all, most especially the pasta which has to be freshly cooked when served.  I learned to start boiling the water about 20 minutes before you expect the guests to arrive.  While you are having the appetizer, the water should already be boiling and the pasta cooking if it takes around 10 minutes to cook.   You should cook the sauce much ahead like the rest of the courses if you don't want to smell like dinner when you eat with your guests.  You almost always drizzle your pasta with extra virgin olive oil before serving.  Even my kids remind me to put fresh oil in their pasta before they eat.  Yes, even one-year old kids can pick up the habit fast.

There are some things that unsettle Italians when they see tourists eat their pasta.   If you want your Italian dinner mates to relax while eating with you, just remember these two basic rules:  Do not eat your pasta with bread.   From where I came from, pasta is served with bread, like in most parts of the world I guess.   In my first experience of an authentic dinner in a restaurant, I was incredulous why the waiter took away the bread basket after we had the appetizer and put a new one after I finished the pasta and about to start the next course.  Ironically, it's the only course when you don't eat the bread.  Second rule is, do not cut your pasta please.  There are exceptions though.  You can cut the big filled-up pastas like lasagnas, raviolis & cannellonis.  While out with my husband and some friends once, there was a tourist who was cutting his spaghetti to bits before eating it.  Our friends couldn't help gaping at the clueless diner and I can almost sense them twitching every time the knife was touching the spaghetti.   No one will twitch though if the recipient of the spaghetti cutting operation is 5 years-old and below. 

The combination of prawns, asparagus and tomatoes is divine.  Whenever I have prawns & asparagus at the same time, they always end up together in this pasta dish. 

Strozzapreti With Shrimps & Asparagus

Serves 2
  • 200 g. strozzapreti (100 g. per person for an abundant plate each)
  • 100 g. cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 250 g. asparagus
  • 6 big prawns
  • 2 cloves garlic, halved
  • cognac
  • 1 cup water
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  1. Start by boiling the water for the pasta.
  2. Prepare the asparagus.  Cut them in half.  Discard the lower half.  Cut the remaining upper half again in the middle.  Set the tips aside.  Chop the remaining half in an electric chopper or mince manually.  Set aside.  
  3. Prepare the prawns.  Take them out of their shells.  Save the heads and set aside.  Devein.  Quarter them.  Set aside.  
  4. Start cooking the sauce.   In a saucepan, saute' the garlic in extra virgin olive oil for a couple of minutes.  Add the heads of the prawns and press them lightly with the ladle to make the juices come out.  Cook for about 5 minutes.  
  5. Add the asparagus tips, minced asparagus and tomatoes.  Cook for about 2 minutes then add water.  Simmer until the water is reduced by half.  
  6. Add a dash of cognac with a high flame until the alcohol evaporates.  Put back to medium flame.  Season with salt & pepper.  
  7.  Discard the garlic & prawn heads.
  8. When the sauce starts to thicken, mix in the cooked strozzapreti and toss them together for about a minute.  Turn off fire.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.