For a long time, I have wanted to try squid ink pasta.
My husband and I often visit the little Italian restaurant, Pastorante, in Midtown Harrisburg. They serve a beautiful dish of black squid ink pasta bathed in a rich cream sauce and topped with shrimp. I have come so close to ordering it only to default to my usual spaghetti with meatballs. I do like seafood very much, including calamari, but I don’t like “fishy fish.” And, since it’s made from the black ink extracted from ocean squid, calamari or cuttlefish, I was certain squid ink pasta must be fishy.
But after talking to several people who have eaten this unusual black pasta, I decided this Italian cook had to give it a try. So first, I had to find some. I found one bag at my favorite place at the West Shore Farmers Market, Peggy’s Silver Spoon. This was dried pasta, although I would have preferred a fresh version, which Pastorante uses.
Trying to re-create a dish I had only viewed from afar was a challenge. I knew that a cream sauce would be best for the dark pasta and, although I thought briefly about crab, I settled on shrimp. But I struggled with the mechanics of the dish.
- Should I make a traditional béchamel? This is a blend of butter, flour and milk, and I wasn’t sure a flour-based sauce was what I wanted.
- Should I use cream and could I cook it long enough that it would thicken? Or maybe half and half to cut the richness?
- What about other seasonings? Would chopped garlic or hot pepper add just the right touch?
- Should I cook the shrimp separately from the cream sauce?
- How much butter would be just enough or would olive oil be better?
I normally follow recipes rather than create them. But spoiler alert: This turned out very well. Here are the ingredients I used, and this is what I did.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 pound uncooked, cleaned and de-veined raw shrimp
- A tablespoon of Calabrian chili paste or a teaspoon of red chili flakes (I used the chili paste)
- 3 or 4 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
- 2 cups fresh heavy cream
- 10 to 12 ounces squid ink pasta
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt to taste
- Chopped parsley (optional)
- Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a non-stick skillet. Sauté the shrimp over medium low heat for about 2 minutes. Add 1 or 2 teaspoons of Calabrian chili paste or ½ to 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes if you prefer a little kick to your dish. Keep the shrimp warm until the sauce and pasta are finished.
- Cook the squid ink pasta according to package directions.
- In a large sauté pan or saucepan, melt the second tablespoon of butter over medium low heat and briefly cook the minced garlic.
- Add the 2 cups of heavy cream and simmer it gently for about 15 minutes. (I kept stirring it and watching it carefully until it became moderately thick.)
- When the cream has thickened, add the grated Parmesan and whisk it until very smooth.
- Before draining the pasta, scoop out about a cup of pasta water to thin the sauce if needed.
- Place the drained pasta into the pot with sauce and gently toss together. Add the sautéed shrimp and toss again. Thin with a little pasta water if needed.
- Place the finished pasta in a large, warmed serving dish. Sprinkle with a little chopped parsley for a little color, if you want.
- Ready to serve!
So, I took my first bite. It was delicious! The sauce was just the right consistency. The garlic and chili gave just the right kick to the bland cream. The two tablespoons of butter were just enough. The cheese was a nice complement to the shrimp, although they are often not used together. And the pasta was not at all fishy.
I am embarrassed to say, that for a very brief moment, I looked around for the TV cameras. It was fun. I am ready to make the dish with scallops or crab. Maybe lobster? What about lightly sautéed calamari for a perfect match?
Give this a try. I think you will like it, too.