(Recipe below: Squid Ink Spaghetti Carbonara with Smoked Angel Fish)
By the time I left high school, I had never eaten an olive. Sheep testicles, yes, those I did, but never an olive.
By the time I arrived at my preferred institution of tertiary learning I was a virgin of many fine foods: capers, rhubarb, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, most varieties of nuts, most varieties of cheeses especially the older and stronger varieties, quail and duck, to name but a few. Needless to say, I did spend much of my time and expendable resources since then redress these obvious shortcomings in my gastronomic development.
Another very important discovery from that time was the adult people not related by blood, often live together and share (what I considered) highly private spaces: toilets, bathrooms and even bedrooms.
Shortly before I reached legal adulthood, I stumbled into the murky world of communal student life. I could no longer tolerate the sheepish mentality of life in dormitories and moved out of the relative safety of the hostel and into the lap of the high priestess of hippiehood, the private commune.
I lived in many types of communes. One of the first was the “ideological” one. Here we all shared everything on purpose. Within the confines of the dilapidated wire fence, no private ownership of any kind of property was allowed. Which, I can assure you, is fine as long as it is the rose bush in the garden and the gravel in the driveway. But it is not so good if it is your favourite teddy bear or your food. I can account for almost 13 occasions where I attempted to strangle or stab a fellow resident over expensive cheese, cheap wine, imported chestnuts, and tartlets from home. The problem with ideological commitment to shared property is that there is no incentive to invest in anything with value, and over time everyone’s standards just declines until all people do is sit in the dilapidated lounge and stare at each other. The fridge was empty, no one spent any money on food: they either ate out and away from the commune, or they went home to eat at mom’s. So we lived of the spinach and lettuce that grew in the garden. I did not look forward to mealtimes for nearly a full year.
I also lived in a “nerds-colony”, a commune where intellectual prowess and cerebral capabilities reigned supreme. Where meals were debated until no one was hungry anymore. Where wine and substances were consumed in dangerous quantities to improve insight and understanding into important matters soon disremembered by everyone. I left this commune just before the doors of perception smashed my brain.
I never really liked living in communes. I hated the fact that friends stole or “borrowed” my food. Despite being as poor as a church mouse, I tried to make sound food investments, which I regarded as a key component to both my education and happiness. Then, to see someone tip a can of precious Portuguese sardines down their drunken gullet after a night’s senseless debauchery is both heart breaking and soul destroying. I lost faith in humanity then that I am still trying to recover now.
To cook was to fight: about dirty dishes; about salt and pepper and lemon juice; about cleaning up; about dishwasher soup; and about ill-considered allergies.
I learned that people could fight over anything. Really anything and that, we must have a special “war gene” that dictates our behavior under conditions of scarcity. I remember an incident that especially horrible; it involved fists and boots and blood and broken teeth when someone discovered that a fellow housemate used his home-cooked strawberry jam to hide a stash of illegal weed.
No amount of Bob Dylan blowing in the wind could repair that broken friendship. It was over. Finished forever.
I left commune life when I could no longer stand someone else’s pubic hair on my soap. The senseless, revolting nature of it all just occurred to me one morning when I looked at my soap and the decision was immediate and final. I moved out, and have never been back.
But it was also during this time that I learned to make pasta. He was the owner of an Italian restaurant that is still going today and often invited me for a meal and a glass of wine when he could see that I was down. It was during one rainy winter’s morning that he offered me a bowl of Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia – Spaghetti with Squid Ink Sauce. That was the first day I ate blackened pasta of any kind and I was amazed beyond belief because I also learned that squid produce ink and that the ink is edible. That day remains one of my most special food memories and Mario if you are still around and ever get to read this: thanks my friend.
I recently bought ready-made blackened pasta from a local shop and thought I’d give it a try. Given that the squid ink taste like seafood, I thought I’d enhance the flavour with some smoked Angelfish. The recipe is built upon a classic spaghetti carbonara recipe in which the smokiness of the bacon pairs well with smokiness of the Angelfish. Do this one for the Mario’s in your life.
Squid Ink Spaghetti Carbonara with Smoked Angel Fish
200 grams Smoked Angelfish
8 Thick slices smoked bacon
500 grams Squid ink spaghetti
5 Egg yolks
250 milliliters Cream
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cloves Black Garlic (optional)
1. Preheat your oven oven to 180℃. Lay the slices of bacon on a baking tray and place in the oven to bake until crispy, about 15 minutes. Once cooked, remove them from the oven, transfer to a cutting board and cut into 2cm pieces. Set aside.
2. Flake the fish into bite sized pieces and remove all the bones. If using chop the black garlic finely.
3. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat, and whilst that is going, gently heat a deep pan over very low heat. Add the spaghetti to the boiling salted water and cook until al dente or to your liking.
4. While the pasta is cooking, whisk egg yolks and cream together with a fork.
Drain cooked pasta and add to the warmed frying pan and set over medium heat. Add egg and cream mixture and black garlic and toss to combine. Add the fish and bacon. Make sure the pasta is well covered with sauce and everything is heated through.
5. Sprinkle serving plates with grated Parmesan cheese and add some cooked spaghetti. Cover with extra sauce and sprinkle with more Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.