Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Pasta with a twist! - Spicy strawberry, tomato and oregano

I've had a massive craving for pasta just before we went on the cruise and it lasted for about two months. Reason? I've been watching too many of the videos by The Chiappa Sisters (GO WATCH THEM IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY). They make pasta look so easy to make. 100g of flour and 1 egg with a pinch of salt. Stir in the egg in the flour volcano, knead, rest, roll. Ah... then the door of pasta is opened to you. Anything from luscious ribbons of fresh pasta paired with a drizzle of olive oil with a generous grating of parmessan to delicate little farfalle bows covered with creamy cheese and spinach are now within your reach... The thought of it just makes you salivate.

And now, after a month of food fest, you'd think that pasta craving would go away. NEVAAAHHH. Since my house does not hold any double zero flour, unfortunately I have not been able to make any fresh pasta...*cue sadface*. But luckily we do have the next best thing, dried packet pasta! And since I always like to spice things up a bit, and possibly go overboard with the ingredients list, I didn't just settle for a simple say olive oil + cheese + thyme pasta, although that would be lovely. 

As much as I'd like to claim this idea for myself, I do need to give credit to none other than Mr. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (what a last name) from River Cottage! In that episode of River Cottage To the Core, Hugh made a savoury strawberry salsa. With the abundance of strawberries that this season offers us, I thought, why not give it a try? Now, savoury strawberries... Why does it work? Well if you think about it, tomato is technically a fruit and it works like magic in savoury dishes. Strawberries, like tomatoes, have a lot in common. Firstly, they're both red, and guys don't underestimate this factor. Secondly, they're both sweet. Thirdly, when cooked, they release a wonderful tanginess (which sometimes may or may not work in other dishes *cough* like this strawberry mochi). 

So, addressing my cravings for pasta and my curiosity about savoury strawberries, the spicy savoury strawberry pasta was thus born. The sauce was basically inspired by ingredients I had in my fridge - giant tomatoes, quarter of a capsicum (alliteration yay!), crunchy snow peas, baby carrots, strawberries! And since the oregano bush kinda took over a huge patch in my garden, what other herbs to use than it! And of course, red wine, olive oil, chilli, garlic, cheese, salt and loads of pepper for added flavour. And believe it or not, this was only the second time I cooked with red wine. Last week I made a similar pasta dish with my friend Sam, and she glugged in red wine to the bubbling tomato sauce. It was yummy. So this pasta sauce met the same fate. And just a side note, like baking with chocolate, you wanna cook with red wine that you'd drink, not some cheap stuff coz the end result would also be cheap tasting. Makes sense right? Good + good =  amazing. Bad + good = mediocre. And you definitely want amazing pasta!

So, end result! It's a pretty summery red dish which screams, 'STOP! ...And eat me!' It's got loads of texture from the crunchy snow peas and baby carrots. It's got a kick from the chilli, which you can definitely tone down if you can't take spice, but spiciness is part of the fun in eating. It's got deep umami flavours from the cheese and red wine. The oregano sings and freshens up the dish. And the star, the strawberry definitely shines, especially with that extra cracking of pepper. Give it a try! If you do, Instagram or Facebook it with #thevanillahub and I'll check it out! 

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Spicy strawberry, tomato and oregano pasta

Serves 2

2 handfuls of pasta (I used elbow pasta)*
1/2 pot of boiling water in a fairly big pot

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 large tomato, with 4/5 diced up, save 1/5 finely sliced for decoration
1 baby carrot, diced really finely
1/4 capsicum, diced
4 medium sized strawberries, finely diced
 4 large snow peas, diced 
1 strawberry, sliced for decoration
Chilli flakes
Handful of fresh oregano leaves (basil would work too) + extra for garnish
Red wine, about half a cup
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Boil a pot of water. Once the water has boiled, drop in a generous pinch of salt and your pasta.** 
Meanwhile, prepare your sauce. Drizzle oil in a pan and once the pan is hot, drop in the garlic. Stir until it starts to turn golden then put in the 4/5 of tomato, carrot, capsicum and 4 strawberries. Let it bubble away until the tomatoes and strawberries start to break down. Add in the snow peas, chilli flakes, oregano and red wine. Stir it a bit and let it sit on medium heat until the sauce thickens. The sauce should have a dropping consistency, not too runny, but not completely thick. If you do overcook it, just slush in some more red wine and let it reduce. Season your sauce with salt and pepper. Trust me, LOADS of pepper makes this dish, since strawberry and pepper love each other. 
Transfer your al dente (still retains a bite) pasta into the saucepan. Stir so each pasta is covered with sauce. Grate in the parmessan and stir to mix. 
Now plate up! Decorate with tomato and strawberry slices. Garnish with oregano, grate more parmessan and crack more pepper on top. Serve. 

*I'm a fairly small eater, so this much is enough. But if you love your pasta like my friend Sam feel free to double the portions! You can always save the leftovers for the next day!
**To make sure you don't over-cook the pasta, you can choose to start cooking it half-way through the sauce-cooking process. Pasta should take about 12 minutes to cook, but taste-testing it helps. Remember, DO NOT put oil in the pot that you're cooking your pasta!! The oil layer will prevent the water from boiling and hence the pasta from cooking properly.


  1. Make it for me next time, at home.....

    1. Sure! When we don't have tonnes of leftover or an overly enthusiastic hobbit in the kitchen lol.