Jan 30, 2013

Spaghetti Saffron Style with Prawns, Smoked Bacon, and Asparagus

I've been sharing recipes with unique ingredients available in Taiwan/Asia. However, I almost run into trouble when trying to prepare a western dish the other day.

My spaghetti recipe calls for some thick pancetta that can be chopped into cubes. As I searched throughout a high-end market in Taipei, I was left with smoked bacon, only smoked bacon. Well, better than nothing.

Use pancetta if you can get a hold of it. Otherwise, try to substitute this ingredient with slightly smoked bacon instead of the ones that come with intense aroma.

Spaghetti saffron style with prawns, smoked bacon, and asparagus -

Ingredients (about 3 to 4 portions)?

0.2 grams of saffron threads
3 portions of spaghetti (for 3 to 4 people)
15 asparagus
8 slices of smoked bacon
6 prawns
2 medium shallots
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon of dried red chili flakes
1 teaspoon of dried Italian seasonings
1 tablespoon of butter
1 can of whole plum tomatoes
Some water
Some olive oil
Some sea salt
Some freshly ground black pepper
Some fresh or dried parsley


My precious box of saffron - 

Inside the box -

Soak these threads in 1/4 cup of room temperature water for at least 2 hours to help in releasing the aroma. I've always love the smell of saffron. Just a few threads and my kitchen was full of its magical fragrance all day long. It's hard to describe the scent, but to me, it's similar to the smell of grilled shrimps (interesting!?).

Peel and chop the shallots into thin slices. Peel and finely chop the garlic cloves. Take out the plum tomatoes from the can, chop into small bite size pieces then transfer back to the can. Discard the very bottom stems of the asparagus. Peel the sides if the texture seems to be tough, otherwise just keep the asparagus as it is. Take 9 asparagus and chop about 3 inches away from the tip. Chop the remaining about 0.5 inches apart.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil and sprinkle some salt in it. Add in the long asparagus tips and cook for about 15 seconds. Quickly remove from hot water and transfer into a bowl full of icy cold water to stop the cooking process. This way the asparagus will stay green and crunchy till the food is served.

Bring a big pot of water to a boil and add a few big pinches of salt. Toss in the spaghetti and give it a quick swirl. Cook till the pasta turns almost al dente in texture. Once done, drain well and set aside for later use.

Gently rinse the prawns with running water then pat dry with a kitchen towel. Take a scissor and cut away the very sharp tip/rostrum on the head along with its long antenna. Also carefully cut a line from the end of the head all the way down to the tail, kind of like butterflying the shrimps but with the shells intacted. Take a small knife and cut a thin line along the back to reveal the dirty vein. Discard the vein and rinse the prawn under water to clean the remaining bits. Pat dry and set aside.

Drizzle about 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive into a big pot and turn to medium high heat. Once the oil turns hot, carefully add in the prawns. Be carefully of the oil flying out if the prawns still got some moisture on them. Sear about 1 minute on both sides or till the shells turned vibrant red. Make sure not to overcook the meat, it should still be rare in the center during this step. Remove the prawns from heat and let them cool down enough to handle by hand.

Separate the head from the body and remove shells from the body. Cut the meat into large bite sizes and scoop out the yummy bits inside the head into a bowl.

In the same pot, add in chopped bacon and sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of sea salt, 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, and 1 teaspoon of dried red chili flakes. Give it a quick stir and cook till the fats have been rendered out from the bacon.

Add in sliced shallots and cook till translucent in color. Add in chopped garlic and cook for another minute. Add in the remaining asparagus along with a little bit of salt. Cook for about one more minute then add in 1 full can of prepared plum tomatoes, 1 teaspoon of dried Italian seasoning, soaked saffron and its colored water.

Give the ingredients a quick stir, bring to a boil then lower the heat to let it simmer for about 3 minutes. Transfer the prawns and the goodies from its head into the pot. Make sure to smooth out the darker colored head paste so it'll melt nicely in the sauce. Cook till the prawns are about 90% done. Taste and see if more salt is needed.

Add 1 tablespoon of room temperature butter into the mixture to bind all the flavors together. Transfer the cooked pasta into the pot, mix well and cook for another 2 minutes. Remember the pasta should be "almost" al dente right now? So all you want to do is to cook the spaghetti to the perfect al dente texture then the meal will be ready to serve!

Serve the spaghetti with some blanched asparagus on top. Sprinkle some chopped parsley or dried parsley if you can find fresh ones. The herb will add a fresh kick to the meal.

I'm in love with saffron. Too bad it costs so much, otherwise I would love to stock a big jar of saffron in my kitchen pantry!

Other spaghetti recipes:

Thai style stir fry ground pork with spaghetti and lots of pecorino romano
Very bacony and garlicky spaghetti
Spaghetti with creamy fava bean sauce and rosemary infused grilled shrimps
Mom's meatballs and my pasta + grated pecorino

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