|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!
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.|