So a few weeks back, I found a package of black spaghetti (infused with squid ink) at Target under their “Archer Farms” brand. Two thoughts went through my head: “I haven’t had squid ink pasta in years!” and “Could Target’s spaghetti actually be any good?” Well, it was on sale, so I decided to give it a spin. I took it home, and there it sat in the pantry for another week as I tried to find a good recipe to accompany the spaghetti. In the end, the spaghetti was actually was pretty good–linguine would have been a better shape than spaghetti, but the flavor was just about right. Unfortunately, it was the sauce where this recipe fell short.
While there are a number of resulting recipes from a Google search for “squid ink pasta,” I ultimately chose one that incorporated shrimp and pancetta in a red sauce. From the onset I had reservations about a red sauce, but as a very visual person I was drawn the resulting photograph from Market Manila’s “Squid Ink Pasta, Prawns & Pancetta a la Marketman.” Thing is, there are no recommended quantities of ingredients, and so when Elizabeth and I got to preparing a grocery list, we sort of made it up as we went along. Unlike the Market Manila post, we had neither sun-dried tomatoes or fresh basil on hand. (Elizabeth doesn’t particularly care for sun-dried tomatoes, so I didn’t feel compelled to buy them.)
Ingredients (serves at least 2):
- 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes
- 1 to 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed
- 1/3 pound of shrimp
- 4 ounce package of cubed pancetta
- handful of parsley, coarsely chopped for garnish
- salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste
Making the sauce
First we reduced the can of whole, peeled tomatoes down to a sauce, adding some tomato paste to thicken it up a bit. Using a separate pan, we fried the onion until wilted, then added the garlic and pancetta in olive oil, taking care not to burn the garlic. We then transferred them all into the pan of red sauce and added crushed red pepper and salt to taste. When the pasta was close to al dente, we cooked the shrimp in the sauce. When plating up the pasta, we added the parsley as a garnish.
What’s not to like?
The sauce was disappointing. While quite attractive on the plate, it was difficult to tell the flavors apart. The pancetta was completely masked by the sauce–and whether that’s because the what we bought wasn’t the best pancetta available or if the sauce was simply overpowering I simply do not know. The shrimp came out well, but the resulting sauce was a tad boring for what should have been an exciting meal. Finally, the parsley was probably a poor choice on our part–fresh basil was what the Marketman post called for, but there was none at our local grocer on the day we were procuring ingredients. Not that the parsley is what “broke” the pasta. The pasta itself was actually not bad at all…I don’t know that I’d buy the Archer Farms brand again but not because of its flavor, but it’s shape: squid ink pasta tends to lend itself to seafood, and seafood lends itself best to linguine not spaghetti.
I would certainly revisit the concept of squid ink pasta with shrimp and pancetta, but I might look to a white wine sauce. I would also cut back on the onion by about half.
If you’ve tried something similar–or have a recipe that you think works–please leave a comment below!