Choosing a favourite pasta is like choosing a favourite outfit: An obviously impossible task, and yet there are those you keep coming back to, riffing on endlessly until you’re sure you’ve exhausted all combinations, then still finding more to love. For me, that pasta is this briny, tomatoey, almost stewlike seafood number. (Please don’t ask me to choose a favourite outfit.)
I always start with a basic, lighter-than-usual tomato sauce, using canned, peeled tomatoes and thick slices of garlic toasted in olive oil. I add a few hunks of mild, firm fleshed fish like cod, halibut or swordfish, to gently poach in the brothy tomatoes, and a few unpeeled shrimp, the flavour of their shells flavouring everything in the pot. (If you prefer shrimp that’s already peeled, that’s OK.) After everything mingles together for a few minutes, it becomes the sauce dreams are made of, born to coat fat tubes or thin strands of al dente pasta.
The rest depends on my mood and on the type of seafood available to me when the craving strikes, which is … well, often. I’ve made versions featuring fresh squid, cut into bite-size rings and simmered in the sauce; oily sardines seared on the side and served on top; and whole tins of salty anchovies melted into olive oil alongside a healthy pinch of chile flakes.
The beauty of this method of preparing seafood, other than the obvious (there is pasta involved), is that it’s nearly impossible to overcook, dry out or — everyone’s worst fish-based fear — get stuck to the pan. The seafood also subtly flavours the sauce, making it taste far more complex than it ought to considering the number of ingredients you’re using. Think of it as a very casual, one-pot bouillabaisse with half the steps and done in a fraction of the time, and where just about any seafood is welcome.
Toss in a last-minute handful of crushed green olives, a smattering of parsley leaves and a drizzle of nice olive oil, and you’re in business. If you were feeling especially in need of extra carbs (and who isn’t, really?), this is the exact dish you’d want to serve with toasted garlic bread on the side. Use it to soak up any extra sauce the rigatoni didn’t get to while you polish off those shrimp, and think about how nice it is to have found your new favourite pasta.
Seafood Pasta With Tomato and Crushed Olives
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 35 minutes
8 ounces rigatoni or another tube-shaped pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 garlic cloves, sliced
Pinch of red-pepper flakes (optional)
1 can whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
1/2 pound mussels or clams (optional)
1 pound firm-fleshed white fish, such as cod, halibut, swordfish, hake or flounder, cut into 2-inch pieces
1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined if you like
3/4 cup Castelvetrano or other green olives, pitted and crushed
1/2 cup parsley, tender leaves and stems, chopped
- Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water. Once it reaches al dente, drain and set aside while you finish the sauce.
- Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic and season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is lightly browned and toasted around the edges, about 2 minutes. Add red-pepper flakes, if using.
- Add tomatoes and then fill the empty can about 3/4 of the way up with water. Swirl the can to loosen the tomatoey bits left behind and add that to the pot. Season with salt, bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened slightly (it should still look quite brothy), 10 to 15 minutes.
- Add the mussels or clams to the sauce, if using, along with the fish, and season again with salt. Let the seafood settle into the brothy tomato sauce and gently swirl the pot, encouraging the seafood to cook evenly. Cook a minute or two, then add the shrimp, swirling the skillet again. Cook until all the seafood is just cooked through and the mussels or clams have opened, another 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add the pasta and very gently toss to coat, cooking another 1 to 2 minutes, just to let the flavours meld. Add olives and remove from heat.
- Divide among bowls, top with parsley and drizzle with olive oil before serving.