As a rule, I don’t take requests for recipes — not when I’m cooking for others and not for this column. Sure, the temptation to give people exactly what they want is always there, but ultimately I’m not certain that does anyone any favors. If I just wrote recipes by request, this would be a column of strictly chickpea stews and sheet-pan chicken (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). I’m sorry if that sounds harsh.
But there are exceptions, and this is a story about an exception.
Every Christmas Eve, my friends and I gather for a bacchanalian celebration. Last year, the theme was Feast of the Seven Fishes, but we were a bit ambitious and ended up with closer to 12 fishes (doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?).
Each dish on the table was a bold, extremely fish-forward approach to the theme, so I wanted to have something that was more of a humble, mildly flavored, comforting, carby background dancer to the real stars of the show (fishes). I threw together a giant pot of caramelized shallot pasta, enhanced with plenty of anchovies — I am nothing if not loyal to a theme. It was shockingly good for the modest and limited ingredients involved, better than it should be, honestly.
The sauce was made with an obscene amount of shallots, fried in a generous pool of olive oil until caramelized and delightfully golden brown, melted into a jammy pile. I also toasted a few slivers of garlic with the shallots; a whole tin of anchovies for meatiness, saltiness and thematic consistency; a bit of red pepper for spiciness and an entire tube of tomato paste for sweetness and tanginess. (I don’t love having an open tin of anchovies or tomato paste, so I appreciate recipes that use the whole thing.)
The result was a deeply savory, very sticky, fiery neon-orange paste that I quickly realized I wanted in my life all the time, pasta or not. Besides pasta, I also wanted to smear it onto thick, oily toast, spoon it over fried eggs or drag roasted chicken though it. I wanted it in a jar kept in my fridge forever.
Reader, everyone requested this recipe, which, no, doesn’t happen each time I cook, thank you very much. There were emails and texts from those who had eaten it, direct messages and comments on the internet from those who had seen it. I felt shy about revealing how simple it was, as if I had tricked everyone into thinking I was more creative than I was (it’s called impostor syndrome, look it up), but I ultimately felt that the shallot mixture is delicious enough to warrant a real-life recipe. I wrote it down and fell even more in love with its simplicity.
So for those who wanted it, here you go. For those who didn’t know they wanted it: I promise, you do, and in this instance, I am happy to oblige.
CARAMELIZED SHALLOT PASTA
- 10 ounces uncooked pasta
- 1 cup parsley, leaves and tender stems, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- Flaky sea salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- >> Shallot sauce:
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 6 large shallots, very thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more to taste
- 1 (2-ounce) can anchovy fillets (about 12), drained
- 1 (4.5-ounce) tube or (6-ounce) can tomato paste (about 1/2 to 3/4 cup)
>> To make sauce: Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high. Add shallots and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are totally softened and caramelized with golden-brown edges, 15 to 20 minutes.
Add red-pepper flakes and anchovies (no need to chop anchovies). Stir to melt anchovies into shallots, about 2 minutes.
Add tomato paste and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly to prevent scorching, until tomato paste has started to cook in the oil a bit, caramelizing at the edges and going from bright red to a deeper brick red color, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer about half the mixture to a resealable container, leaving the rest behind. (The portion in the container may be used elsewhere: in another batch of pasta or with roasted vegetables, fried eggs or crispy chicken thighs.)
Cook pasta according to package instructions in a large pot of salted boiling water until very al dente (perhaps more al dente than usual). Transfer to Dutch oven with remaining shallot mixture and 1 cup pasta water. Cook over medium-high heat, swirling to coat each piece of pasta, using a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape up any bits on the bottom, until pasta is thick and sauce has reduced and is sticky, but not saucy, 3 to 5 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine parsley and chopped garlic; season with flaky salt and pepper. Top pasta with parsley mixture and a bit more red-pepper flakes, if you like. Serves 4.
Nutritional information unavailable.