It’s a crisp Fall day… not Summer, no definitely not that anymore. The days are getting that cool crisp edge to them that no amount of warm sunlight can completely banish. I expect the leaves to start to turn in the next few weeks, but for now…. if you really want, you can still pretend that Summer will never end…. Sigh.
Given that I’ve another day off by myself…. and a pantry and refrigerator full of goodies… I’ve been inspired to spend the day cooking up something new and yummy for a delightful dinner surprise. This time out? How about an African inspired twist on pasta? All thanks to a wee bit of luck I had finding some spicy Tunisian Harissa paste.
Harissa paste? What’s that, you ask? Well, harissa is a type of hot chili paste common to North African cuisine and most closely associated with the countries of Tunisia and Algeria. It’s primary ingredients are hot bird’s eye chili peppers, Serrano peppers or other sorts of hot chillies and normally also contains a mix of other spices such as garlic, coriander, caraway seed, cumin, as well as some vegetable or olive oil as a preservative. I’ve had it before, but never actually found any to play with myself. Till now….. 😉
So just what sort of tasty mischief can a lil’ Asian Catgirl get up to with a big ol’ jar of African Hot Chili paste? Guess you’ll just have to “Read On” if you want to find out…..
I really lucked out on this one…. all thanks to a chance meeting with another local cook who works at my favorite Moroccan restaurant. One of the nice things about being in the restaurant industry is the occasional chance to do a favor for somebody at another restaurant and make a connection with the people who work there. Such was the case when one of their cooks, Aisha, gave me a call one day at work a couple of months back looking to score some lamb to make up for a shortfall they had with a dinner party they needed to do. It was something we happened to have on hand, and as it wasn’t a crucial item on our menu, we were able to help them out. As Carolyn and I are also regular customers over there, we got a chance to get a personal “thank you” dinner surprise from her one evening, and after talking for a while, found we had lots in common. Seems that we’ve actually bumped into each other before at the local coffee shop and never knew who each other were…. so now we always say hi and share news and gossip when we meet. Once she found out I wanted some Harissa to play with, well… it wasn’t too much later that a jar of it found it’s way to me one morning over coffee last week. Gotta love those lil’ “connections”…
So anyway…. given that I’m poking about the kitchen today, it seems appropriate to crack that jar open and give it a whirl…. So watch out world…. Miyuki’s got herself some chili paste!! And… some spaghetti noodles. Cooked up a day ago for dinner, and as luck would have it, there is still a couple of big dishes worth all oiled and chilled in the fridge waiting for another chance to awaken their inner goodness. So all I have to do is the simplest of things, and that’s to whip up a flavorful sauce to toss with them.
I’ll start with the following:1 onion, diced fine 2 cloves chopped garlic 1 tbsp. harissa paste 2 tbsp. tomato paste 1½ lb. crimini mushrooms, sliced 4 or 5 tbsp. Olive oil
Begin by heating your Olive oil and sauteing your onion and garlic till the onions are translucent and your garlic browns slightly. Then add your mushrooms and let them fry a bit to soften then slightly before reducing your heat and adding your harissa along with the tomato paste and a splash of water as needed to allow it all to start making a lovely rich looking sauce. Then, once it’s heated through, add about 1 14oz can of chick peas and a good handful of fresh, clean, green leaf spinach. Stir it all rapidly until the chick peas are hot and the spinach wilts, before adding the final ingredient, about 8 ounces of fresh sun-dried tomatoes, julienne cut into nice strips. If your sauce seems dry, add just enough water to loosen it to the consistency you want. Let it simmer for a few minutes… all those flavors mingling, before tossing it together in a bowl with your pasta to coat and mix it all.
It’ll work best if your pasta is nice, freshly cooked and al denté, but you can use left-over refrigerated cooked pasta just a easily in a pinch, as long as you return it to the pan for a few minutes to get it all piping hot and yummy. In that second case, you may need a little more water to make the sauce work, but be careful not to use too much or you’ll end up diluting the overall flavor and missing the whole point of the harissa’s spicy goodness. And we wouldn’t want that, now would we?
I plan to top this with a light sprinkle of fresh lemon zest…. but then I’m a big citrus fan. 😉 You could add other things to this as well…. chunked tomatoes instead of the sun-dried ones…. and I’m thinking sliced black olives would be nice in it as well, although I don’t have any at the moment, or maybe even chicken if you’d rather not go all vegetarian.
Mmmmm! I just know this one is going to work…. and I can’t wait to spring it on Carolyn, she’ll just love it.
Can’t wait to actually give it a try tonight!!