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PASTA GRATINATA WITH PRAWNS (& ASPARAGUS)

This dish is a heresy – seafood with cheese – and a delight. It’s a riff on a classic from Da Fiore, possibly Venice’s finest restaurant, and where I first really fell in love with Italian wine (funnily enough, a rather internationally styled Chardonnay from Castello di Ama the first time, and then om subsequent visits Soave from Gini and not-Soave from Anselmi). You can make this at any time of year – just choose a vegetable that suits the mood. It is best in my opinion with one vegetable and one herb – never more than one of each, but you can of course omit either.

 

Serves 2-3 as a main (4-6 as a starter). Quantities can be halved if it’s dinner for one.

  • 50g butter (or oil)
  • ½ a smallish red onion or 1 shallot, thinly sliced (optional)
  • A vegetable (optional)*
  • A herb (optional)**
  • 200g peeled prawn*** tails
  • A dash (60ml) white or rosé wine (optional)
  • 2 big handfuls leftover cooked pasta (or 120g dried pasta or 150g fresh, cooked al dente – tagliolini are best)
  • 200ml cream, double is best
  • 4 tablespoons grated cheese (parmesan or similar, optional)

 

Preheat the grill

  1. Melt the butter over a medium heat
  2. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and fry for a few moments,
  3. Add the vegetable and gently sauté until just warmed through. If using a mountain herb, add it at the same time
  4. Add the prawns, then the white wine and let it boil for a moment until most of the liquid has evaporated
  5. Add the cream to the sauce, bring to a boil
  6. Add the pasta (and herb, if using an annual one) and cook for a minute, until the pasta is warm through and the cream starting to coat it (still a tad on the runny side – it will continue to thicken under the grill)
  7. Transfer to a suitable dish, to make an even layer 1-2cm thick
  8. Sprinkle with parmesan and brown the top, under the grill
  9. Serve immediately

 

* The vegetable can be 1 bunch (250g) asparagus, sliced on the bias 1cm (or a handful of podded peas or broad beans (blanched), or an artichoke (cleaned and thinly sliced), or a handful of wild garlic leaves (cut 2cm), or a handful of samphire or a courgette (julienne), or a small radicchio (shredded), or wild mushrooms (brushed clean & chunked), or 8 courgette flowers (added later, with the pasta), or…

** One herb – a mountain herb (fresh chopped rosemary or picked oregano or thyme) or an annual one (basil or chives or tarragon or fennel tops or parsley) – but just one.

*** 200g raw peeled prawns – halve them if they are big, or the meat from 500g frozen shell-on cooked Atlantic prawns. You could also, if you prefer, use the picked meat from 500g mussels or clams, steamed open in a dry pan, or 200g picked crab or lobster meat, or even smoked salmon or mackerel.