theo randall’s ‘pasta’ + tagliatelle with aubergines, tomatoes and basil
I adore pasta. I love its versatility, smooth toothsome texture when perfectly al dente and willingness to soak up anything you throw at it. I enjoy it in all its forms and guises, be it simple and made with dried pantry staples or intricately hand-shaped and filled. Theo Randall is quite the authority on Italian cooking, having spent 17 years at the legendary River Cafe and heading up his own eponymous Italian restaurant at the InterContinental for the last 4. Like me, he has a soft spot for the Italian staple and his first cookbook touches on all aspects of it, with illustrated guides to making various and all manners of sauces to partner with pastas both dried and fresh.
There are over 100 recipes within the bright blue covers that range from the familiar Spaghetti Carbonara to an exceptional Gnocchi with Jerusalem Artichokes, White Truffle, Cream and Parmesan. The recipes are concise and easy to execute, with most of the ones involving dried pasta not requiring more than a 30-minute stint in the kitchen; hence ideal for a quick satisfying weekday supper. I have already plowed through a fair few – Farfalle with Broccoli, Anchovies, Chilli, Cream and Parmesan (packed with umami), Pappardelle with Crab, Fennel and Tomatoes (light, fresh and summery), and Slow-cooked Tomato and Basil Sauce (simple but punchy).
The recipe below is a slightly tweaked version of Theo’s. I found the tomatoes a little tart so added a smidgen of sugar to mellow them out and as I like my pasta fiery, I doubled the prescribed amount of chilli flakes. I also substituted pecorino with parmesan as that was what I found in the fridge. The resulting tomato sauce is deep and intense, with the creamy chunks of aubergine clinging seductively to the flat strands of pasta. Inevitably the aubergines absorb a lot of oil when cooked in this manner, and you will find that you may need to top up with even more oil as you go along. If you’re seeking a healthier alternative I would suggest roasting the aubergines à la Ottolenghi with a scant brushing of olive oil and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper.
Tagliatelle with Aubergines, Tomatoes and Basil
6 tbsp olive oil
2 large aubergines, cut into 1cm thick slices
400g (14oz) can chopped tomatoes
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
8 basil leaves, torn
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
250g fresh or dried egg tagliatelle
75g parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated
a small pinch sugar
freshly ground black pepper
Heat 5 tbsp of the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and fry the aubergine in batches, until light golden on the outside and soft all the way through. As each batch is done, place on kitchen towels to absorb the excess oil.
Heat the remaining oil in a small saucepan and cook the garlic gently until softened. Add the tomatoes and a small pinch of sugar and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer until reduced by half. Season to taste. Cut the cooked aubergines into thick strips and add to the tomato sauce with the basil and dried chilli. Season with salt to taste.
Cook the tagliatelle in a large pan of salted boiling water for about 3 minutes, or until al dente (according to packet instructions if the pasta is dried). Drain, reserving a little of the cooking water. Toss the pasta and sauce well, adding a spoonful or two of the pasta water to loosen if necessary, and cook gently for further couple of minutes. Serve with the grated cheese and a few twists of black pepper.