Every Christmas Eve, my friends and I gather for a bacchanalian celebration, including anyone who sticks around for the holidays. Last year, the theme was Feast of the Seven Fishes, but we were a bit ambitious and ended up with closer to 12 fishes (doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?).
Each dish on the table was a bold, extremely fish-forward approach to the theme, so I wanted to have something that was more of a humble, mildly flavoured, comforting, carby background dancer to the real stars of the show (fishes). I threw together a giant pot of caramelised shallot pasta, enhanced, of course, with plenty of anchovies — I am nothing if not loyal to a theme and my own personal brand. It was shockingly good for the modest and limited ingredients involved, better than it should be, honestly.
The sauce itself was made with an obscene amount of shallots, fried in a generous pool of olive oil until caramelised and delightfully golden brown, melted into a jammy pile. I also added a few slivers of garlic to be toasted with the shallots; a whole tin of anchovies for meatiness, saltiness and thematic consistency; a bit of red pepper for spiciness and an entire tube of tomato paste that caramelised in the oil for sweetness and tanginess. (I don’t love having an open tin of anchovies or tomato paste, so I appreciate recipes that use the whole thing.)
The end result was a deeply savoury, very sticky, fiery neon-orange paste that I quickly realised I wanted in my life all the time, pasta or not. I did want to coat pasta in it, but I also wanted to smear it onto thick, oily toast, spoon it over my fried eggs, or drag roasted chicken though it. I wanted it in a jar kept in my fridge forever.
Everyone requested this recipe, which, no, doesn’t happen each time I cook. I felt shy about revealing how simple it was, as if I had tricked everyone into thinking I was more creative than I was (it’s called impostor syndrome, look it up), but I ultimately felt that the shallot mixture itself was delicious and useful enough to warrant a real-life recipe. I wrote it down and fell even more in love with its simplicity.
So for those who wanted it, here you go.
Caramelised Shallot Pasta
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 40 minutes
1/4 cup olive oil
6 large shallots, very thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves: 4 thinly sliced, 1 finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more to taste
1 (2-ounce) can anchovy fillets (about 12), drained
1 (4.5-ounce) tube or (6-ounce) can of tomato paste (about 1/2 to 3/4 cup)
10 ounces pasta
1 cup parsley, leaves and tender stems, finely chopped
Flaky sea salt
1. Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium high. Add shallots and thinly sliced garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots have become totally softened and caramelised with golden-brown fried edges, 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Add red-pepper flakes and anchovies. (No need to chop the anchovies; they will dissolve on their own.) Stir to melt the anchovies into the shallots, about 2 minutes.
3. Add tomato paste and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly to prevent any scorching, until the tomato paste has started to cook in the oil a bit, caramelising at the edges and going from bright red to a deeper brick red colour, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer about half the mixture to a resealable container, leaving the rest behind. (These are your leftovers to be used elsewhere: in another batch of pasta or smeared onto roasted vegetables, spooned over fried eggs or spread underneath crispy chicken thighs.)
4. To serve, cook pasta according to package instructions in a large pot of salted boiling water until very al dente (perhaps more al dente than usual). Transfer to Dutch oven with remaining shallot mixture (or a skillet if you are using the leftover portion) and 1 cup pasta water. Cook over medium-high heat, swirling the skillet to coat each piece of pasta, using a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape up any bits on the bottom, until pasta is thick and sauce has reduced and is sticky, but not saucy, 3 to 5 minutes.
5. In a small bowl, combine parsley and finely chopped garlic clove, and season with flaky salt and pepper. Divide pasta among bowls, or transfer to one large serving bowl, and top with parsley mixture and a bit more red-pepper flakes, if you like.