Assassin’s feed: Four killer new pasta recipes with extra-crispy bits and saucy goodness

Assassin’s feed: Four killer new pasta recipes with extra-crispy bits and saucy goodness

Katrina Meynink

There is something about spaghetti all’assassina (assassin’s spaghetti) that speaks to me. Its appeal lies in the glorious disregard for the rules that often weigh down a dish – the restrictive “this is the only way” and “you can’t add that” – in the name of tradition.

On a recent trip to Bari, Italy, a dear friend and I inhaled more than our fair share of the stuff and I became completely enamoured with the umami-forward, almost-burnt flavour that comes from cooking the pasta not in boiling water but instead, frying the raw spaghetti directly in the sauce to the point of being concerned for your pan’s welfare. This technique has the bonus effect of adding layers of texture – crunchy, fried, soft, al dente – that make the dish an absolute joy to eat.

Bari’s signature dish is the inspiration behind the following pasta recipes, all of which disregard the step of “add pasta to a pot of boiling water” and instead go straight to the “sauce”, so to speak.

Crispy goodness: Spaghetti all’assassina (aka assassin’s spaghetti).
Crispy goodness: Spaghetti all’assassina (aka assassin’s spaghetti).Katrina Meynink

Spaghetti all’assassina

If you’ve never made this pasta, allow me to hold your hand a little. The key to this dish is in thoroughly reducing the sauce to the point of burning – that lightly charred, sticky flavour is the heaven-sent element of a proper assassina. You also need to disregard your urge to interfere. Leave it to bubble, sizzle and splatter – it’s what makes this so good. It may get its name from the cook “killing” the pasta, but in truth, that is what makes the dish come alive.

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 brown onion, finely diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 500g spaghetti (bucatini is also fun; traditionalists look away)
  • 2 cups tomato passata
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 litre water
  • chilli flakes, to taste

Method

  1. Place a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and once hot, add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute before adding the pasta. Leave it to cook undisturbed for a minute or two before adding the tomato passata.
  2. Now leave it be. It will begin to thicken and turn dark red, blackening at the edges of the pan – don’t be alarmed. While this is happening, bring the litre of water to the boil and add the tomato paste to the water, stirring to combine.
  3. As the tomato passata reduces, bubbles and hisses, and the pasta cooks, add a ladle of tomato water every so often, continuing to add gradually until the liquid has mostly been absorbed, and the pasta has softened to al dente, about 10-12 minutes. You might not need to add all the water. Test a strand of pasta a few times along the way − the soft parts should be al dente, and the liquid should be sauce-like and coating the pasta, rather than soupy.
  4. Add dried chilli flakes to taste and transfer into serving bowls. Season with salt, pepper and more chilli flakes, and enjoy piping hot.

Serves 4-6

This chicken pasta bake is a one-pot wonder.
This chicken pasta bake is a one-pot wonder.Katrina Meynink

Chicken and vodka pasta bake

A touch of vodka brings depth to this glorious chicken pasta one-pot wonder. I do recommend, time permitting, that you can let the chicken simmer for 30 minutes. You could even prepare the chicken a few days ahead and finish the dish the day of eating for a scheduled-ahead midweek win. The flavours only improve with time.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large brown onion, finely diced
  • 2 tbsp rosemary leaves, chopped (plus more to scatter)
  • 750g chicken thighs
  • 3½ cups chicken stock
  • 400g can crushed tomatoes
  • pinch of caster sugar
  • ½ cup tomato passata
  • ½ cup pouring cream
  • ¼ cup vodka
  • 500g rigatoni
  • 100g mozzarella, grated

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C fan-forced (190C conventional).
  2. Place a large, deep, ovenproof frying pan over medium heat. Add the oil and once hot, add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rosemary and cook until fragrant, then add the chicken thighs and cook for 3-5 minutes or until browned and caramelised.
  3. Flip the chicken thighs, turn the heat to low then pour over 1 cup of chicken stock, add the tinned tomatoes and pinch of sugar. Simmer for 30 minutes or until the sauce has reduced, and the chicken is cooked through.
  4. Using two forks, shred the chicken directly into the sauce. Add the remaining 2½ cups of stock, plus the passata, cream and vodka, and stir to combine. Add the rigatoni, turning to coat, then top with the mozzarella. Pop in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the pasta has cooked through − it will be soft and crunchy in parts − the sauce has reduced, and the cheese is bubbling. Season with salt and pepper, scatter with remaining rosemary leaves and serve.

Serves 4-6

Raid the deli cabinet for this pasta bake.
Raid the deli cabinet for this pasta bake.Katrina Meynink

Cheesy, meaty Friday night pasta bake

So cheesy, so easy, so completely satisfying. A quick supermarket deli aisle raid, two minutes of prep, throw the ingredients in the dish, then let it do its thing in the oven. Done. The pasta will be soft and yielding in parts, crunchy and golden in others. Take that as a perfect midweek win.

Ingredients

  • 500g casarecce pasta
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
  • ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 280g jar mini peppers (capsicums), halved
  • ½ cup chopped herbs (I used parsley, oregano and basil)
  • 3½ cups chicken stock
  • 100g provolone, grated
  • 200g mozzarella, sliced
  • 100g sliced cured meats (I used a mix of salami and prosciutto)
  • basil leaves or other herbs, to scatter

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C fan-forced (190C conventional).
  2. To a rectangular casserole baking dish, add the pasta, olive oil, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, peppers and herbs. Give them a quick stir to combine. Pour over the stock and stir again. Add the provolone and mozzarella then top with the slices of cured meat. Season with salt and pepper, cover loosely with foil and cook for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove the foil and cook for another 20 minutes, or until the pasta looks crunchy in some bits, soft in others. The liquid should have evaporated, the meat will be crisp and the cheese brown and bubbling. Scatter with herbs, and season again if you wish, before serving.

Serves 4-6

Pasta limone gets the assassina treatment.
Pasta limone gets the assassina treatment.Katrina Meynink

Assassina meets pasta limone

This takes the cooking technique of spaghetti all’assassina (see recipe above) and introduces it to pasta limone. The lemon and the pasta caramelise and take on some colour, transporting the concept of lemon pasta into an entirely different territory – one that is deeper, more intriguing and far more interesting to eat. Throw some chilli flakes and parmesan at it, and this is a superb meal.

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • zest of 2 large lemons
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 500g spaghetti
  • 2½-3 cups vegetable or chicken stock (or water)
  • 100g parmesan, finely grated using a Microplane, plus extra to serve
  • 4 tbsp cream
  • chilli flakes, to serve

Method

  1. Add the olive oil and butter to a frying pan over a low-medium heat. Once the pan is hot and the butter has melted, add the garlic and lemon zest, cooking briefly, until fragrant and the garlic is soft, about 1 minute. Add the lemon juice then add the spaghetti and cook, undisturbed, until the pasta takes on a little caramelisation.
  2. Add the stock a ladleful at a time and cook, trying not to disturb the pasta, for 10-12 minutes − you want the liquid to have reduced quite significantly and the pasta to be just al dente; any residual liquid will have thickened with the starches released from the pasta.
  3. Add the parmesan and cream, turning the pasta to coat. Most of the stock should have been absorbed, and the cheese and cream add a touch of luxury and richness to coat the pasta.
  4. Divide among bowls and top with an extra grating of parmesan and a pinch of chilli flakes. Serve piping hot.

Serves 4-6

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