Wednesday, 11 April 2012

spicy eggplant fettuccine, a twist on aglio e olio;
aka sichuan meets abruzzo

Spicy eggplant fettuccine, a twist on spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino.

One of the first meals I learnt how to make from a cookbook was spaghetti aglio e olio.

I was eighteen when I left Malaysia to pursue a university degree in Australia. My sister and I rented a unit together. Our repertoire of dishes was limited back then, and truth be told, my knowledge of Western cuisine didn't go much beyond a simple grilled salmon with salt and lemon, and - shock, horror - assorted meals composed from packet mixes and jarred sauces from the supermarket shelves. (Mind you, they weren't all bad!)

But one day, my sister received a cookbook from my aunt - one that, in retrospect, encouraged our first baby steps in Western cooking. When I flipped through the pages, it was an easy pasta recipe that caught my eye. Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino. Ingredients: spaghetti, olive oil, garlic, chilli, salt and pepper.

Enticed by its simplicity, I made my first spaghetti aglio e olio. It was a revelation in the strength and beauty of basic ingredients, and I've made it many times since.

Eggplants from my aunt's garden, sliced, in a bath of lightly salted water.

Now, many years later, I rarely rely on cookbooks, and most of my meals are either the tried-and-true, or on-a-whim creations. Today's recipe is a blend of both. That old Italian favourite, given a new twist with classic ingredients from my Chinese upbringing... a hot and tingling eggplant fettucine, where Sichuan meets Abruzzo.

The use of peanut oil gives this a heavier character than olive oil in the original aglio e olio recipe, but also a fragrant nutty quality. The skin of the eggplants crunch up a little when fried, while the flesh almost liquefies. The pungence of the garlic, paired with the numbing heat of the peppercorns and chillies, keeps the tastebuds on the edge. I threw in the garlic chives almost as an afterthought - I have the plant growing in a pot on my windowsill these days, courtesy of my parents from their most recent visit - and they turned out to be the perfect crowning touch of piquant green goodness.

So here you have it, my playful translation of West to East.

Dried Sichuan peppercorns and chillies.

sichuan-inspired spicy eggplant pasta (serves 1)

2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
4 dried chillies, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 serve of pasta (approx. 200g fresh or 125g dried. I recommend fettuccine, linguine, or spaghetti)
4 baby eggplants (approx. 200g)
2 tablespoons chopped garlic chives
Chinese light soy sauce, roasted sesame oil and black vinegar, to taste

Warm up the peanut oil over low heat. Add garlic, Sichuan peppercorns and dried chillies. Gently fry, taking care that they do not burn, for 2 minutes or until the oil takes on a rosy hue, and before the ingredients turn black. Stir in the salt, set aside to cool slightly, then strain.

Slice eggplants lengthwise into quarters, soaking them in lightly salted water as you do so to keep them bright and fresh. Retrieve and squeeze out excess water before frying.

Boil your pasta in a pot of salted water according to packet or vendor instructions until al dente. (Times will vary depending on whether you are using fresh or dried pasta.) When the pasta is cooked, drain in a colander (but reserve a little of the pasta water).

While you are waiting for the pasta to cook, return the spicy infused oil to a pan over high heat. When the oil is hot, throw in the eggplant strips and let them fry for 1 minute, then turn them and fry for another minute. Retrieve eggplant and set aside so that it does not continue to soak in the oil.

Toss together the cooked pasta, eggplant, infused oil and fresh garlic chives. Add Chinese light soy sauce, roasted sesame oil, and black vinegar to taste, if desired. If the mixture is too dry, add a little of the reserved pasta water to loosen it up.

Tuck in and bask in its greasy glory. A refreshing salad on the side wouldn't go astray!

Notes/Variations:
To make this dish vegan, make sure you use an eggless pasta.
To make this dish gluten-free, use gluten-free pasta or rice noodles.


Spicy eggplant fettucine - when Sichuan meets Abruzzo.

39 comments:

  1. That sounds gorgeous. I love aglio e olio - such comfort! And I love eggplant, so this sounds like pretty much the perfect combination to me.

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    1. Both aglio e olio and eggplant are very wonderful things indeed, I agree!

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  2. Thats funny - I remember when I lived in my first flat, my flatmate and I cooked 'french' chicken and chicken and mushroom crepes (it was the 80s) Essentially they were the same thing - one with crepes and one with rice. Im starting to like eggplant so will put this in my 'to do' basket.

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    1. Ah, first flat memories! Those meals sound pretty good actually. I often do variations on the same thing, too.

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  3. i used to rely on online recipes and memories of my childhood ( i watch a lot of jamie oliver and yen can cook! also nigella lawson!) i can't afford cookbooks. hehe. too expensive!!

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    1. Yeah, cookbooks are pretty expensive! I have some, but I actually rarely use them... still nice to flick through for inspiration though.

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  4. "I rarely rely on cookbooks, and most of my meals are either the tried-and-true, or on-a-whim creations" – that so describes me! Hardly every buy cookbooks now. And if I do buy the rare one, it has to offer something I want explore more about, and have useful information, not just recipes.

    Ps:Love the look of your dish. Anything eggplant sends me weak at the knees. :-)

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    1. I'm the same with my cookbook-buying patterns. I usually buy the ones that have a niche quality to them. :D

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  5. Oh that sounds amazing! Will have to give this a go.

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  6. I like this fusion pasta recipe!~ After all, isn't fettucine a kind of noodles? :P

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  7. Ahhh! Two of my favourite things, spaghetti aglio e olio and eggplant combined. Genius!

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  8. Great idea! I'd love to try fettuccine with peanut oil. How interesting!

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    1. The peanut oil adds a sultry Chinese flavour to it. :D

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  9. What a twist ... love your work. thanks for sharing.

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  10. I love aglio e olio, and the eggplant addition sounds like a perfect twist!

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    1. It's hard to go wrong with fried eggplant! ;)

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  11. Aglio e olio is one of our favourite meals at Parsley Steet and I love your variation on the theme.

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  12. A very nice fusion. East meet West. I know I am going to love this.

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  13. I totally heart the Asian twist. No seriously. Spicy eggplant. Very literally a recipe for success. Dang it. Soooooo hungry now.
    Oh and, greasy glory, giggle snort. So true and so tasty. Italy rules (but Asia + Italy = hot kinky meal).

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    1. Eggplant really is awesome. I wasn't that keen on it as a child, but love it so much now!
      And thanks for appreciating greasy glory. ;)

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  14. Dear leaf,

    I had the same problem when I first came to Sydney for high school. I didn't know what a garlic was and cooking was quite a fearful experience. I'm not a fan of Sichuan pepper because of its overpowering flavours but eggplant and fettuccine done this way look absolutely brilliant!

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    1. Haha, thanks for sharing. It can be a fearful experience indeed!
      You can skip the Sichuan pepper and just use dried chillies instead. It'll still be nice and spicy, without the fragrant numbing effect!

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  15. Omg I love this post, Leaf. What a great story of how you started your life and culinary journey here in Australia, and how far you've come. I think it's something a lot of international students like me totally identify with. I'm walking in your footsteps and you prolly don'y even know haha! It's not too long ago that I learned to cook and touched raw meat for first time as well and even till this day, I am continuously learning so much and love every minute of it. This is such a perfect East meets West twist. Love, love, love this! =D

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    1. You're much further along than I was at your age! Okay that's making me sound kinda old... I'm not, really! :p

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  16. Ahh this is such a lovely fusion dish! And I love that you used vegetables from your aunt's garden!

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    1. I love my aunt's garden - such lovely fresh produce! I get freebies whenever I visit... ;)

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  17. this dish does sound like a lovely fusion - i usually have aglio with italian spices and eggplant with sambal but not eggplant with sichuan spices. and I've to say that my first dish when i was alone overseas studying was aglio olio too! ;p although I'm ashamed to admit that i've yet to progress till the stage you're at now

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    1. Aglio e olio is such a great beginner's dish, isn't it? And from the looks of it you've progressed wonderfully!

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  18. What a smart twist this is. I love aglio e olio as well, and this looks like such a fun was to mix things up!

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  19. This looks like my kind of pasta! What a beautiful dish :)

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