Spot Prawns in a Saffron Tomato Sauce with Mascarpone and Nero di Seppia Pasta

In Recipe by Sean35 Comments

Spot Prawns in a Saffron-Tomato Sauce

with Mascarpone & Nero di Seppia Pasta

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I know how tempted we food bloggers are to toss around the words ‘date night’ when we want to sell our readers on a dish, but this recipe is and always will be one of my quintessential date night meals. This recipe is an homage to a dish that I enjoyed many years ago in a little restaurant in Montreal. As is so often the case, I can’t remember the name of the establishment, and a little bit of Google Street-View sleuthing shows me that the location is now a taco bar. But the memory of the dish has stuck with me for all these years, and now that I have kids and carefree restaurant meals are a little harder to come by, I figured it was time to breathe life into my reminiscences and to bring date night home with me. This certainly isn’t a faithful remembering of the original dish, which featured squid and certainly didn’t use Pacific spot prawns, but the core concept – a lightly spiced tomato sauce, squid ink pasta, seafood, and mascarpone – is everything I remembered and more. And let’s face it, when trying to recapture a great food memory, it can be pretty tough to live up to your own expectations. I can happily say that in this case, it’s mission-accomplished.

Date night reminiscences aside, let’s talk about what’s going on in this recipe and why you’re going to get hooked on it.

The nero di seppia (squid ink) pasta is wonderful, and spot prawns are one of my favourite seafoods (more on those later), but the real key to this whole thing is a simple, yet carefully crafted sauce. We start out with some Italian sauce 101 basic – good quality tomatoes (canned in this case), onion, garlic, and some spices. But a basic tomato sauce isn’t going to knock your socks off. The key to real success here (and in many, MANY recipes) is finding a way to tie all of your ingredients together in/with the sauce. This is one of those culinary concepts that many people already do, though often without realizing it. The basic idea is that any sauce will taste better if it incorporates elements from the rest of the meal, thus tying the flavours together. In this case, that means using the shrimp shells and the saffron to bring a briney, ocean flavour into the sauce itself. A simple scratch-made tomato sauce is fantastic, but it’s also something of a blank canvas. Left as is, it tends to feel like a tacked-on addition to many meals, rather than one with a clear place. Using the shrimp shells and the saffron lend a pleasing briny taste and vaguely hay-like scent to the sauce that works wonderfully with the squid ink and the spot prawns. The mascarpone adds a velvety richness that mellows everything out, and the subtle (and adjustable) spice brings a nice piquant buzz to the whole thing. It’s more than the sum of its parts, and certainly better than it could ever be if you were to simply cook the shrimp and toss them with a plain tomato sauce.

This concept of tying together sauces is one that can be varied endlessly, and it’s often the very trick needed to turn a good recipe into a great one. As subtle as the differences can be, our palates (and our brains) respond differently when very different tasting foods share some sort of connecting elements.

Recipe Notes

I feel like I say this kind of thing all the time, but let’s do it again: this looks like a fancy, gourmet treat, but it is NOT a difficult meal. The key to this is all in the quality of the ingredients and how they’re handled. Beyond that, the techniques are all exceedingly simple. In fact, if you’re a fairly novice cook but you’re looking to impress, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better recipe than this one. I’ve given a lot of notes below, not because this is difficult, but because many of these ingredients are less-familiar to home cooks. Read up and you’ll be all set.

I will also mention cost here, as there are quite a few ‘gourmet’ ingredients at play. If you bought this at a restaurant, you can bet that it would cost a pretty penny. When prepared at home however, it’s only moderately pricey. A special treat to be sure, but the expensive components are used carefully and in moderation. I’ll discuss them (and their cost) in detail below.

Spot Prawns

I’ve cooked with spot prawns on the site before, and I’m always eager to sing their praises. I’m very interested in sustainable seafood and fisheries, and spot prawns are a wonderful sustainable shrimp option that happens to be harvested right here in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, I was eager to get this recipe out now, as the 2017 Spot Prawn Festival is coming up this Saturday. Seafood lovers throughout the Vancouver area (myself included) are excited and ready to attend this fantastic annual event, featuring amazing recipes by a ton of incredible chefs, plus tons of great food and drink from some wonderful local businesses. If you’re in the Lower Mainland, try to snag a ticket before it’s too late. And if you can get your hands on some spot prawns yourself, I hope you’ll give this recipe a shot, but there are also a bunch more on the Spot Prawn Festival site that you can explore.

Spot prawns are a large, meaty, and flavourful prawn (or shrimp – the terminology doesn’t really mean much). They’re available, in season, up and down the Pacific coast. Because they’re in very high demand (many are exported for use in sushi and sashimi) and because they have a carefully regulated fishery, they tend to be pricey (I paid about $22 for a pound of tails, and that was quite good). That being said, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to try to craft a budget-friendly variation on this recipe. I don’t mean that to sound condescending; sadly we’ve become accustomed to inexpensive shrimp as a result of some very environmentally and socially damaging fisheries around the world. Mangrove degradation, slave labour, and heavy by-catch are just some of the problems associated with cheap shrimp production around the world. In addition to these issues, the cheapest shrimp tends to have a heavy iodine flavour, which is further amplified by the saffron, leading to an overly powerful and unpleasant taste.

Now, that’s not to say that you couldn’t use an alternative. Any high-quality, sustainable shrimp or relative (lobster, langoustine, crayfish) would work wonderfully. A different route (and a less expensive one) involves substituting squid for the shrimp. This is a fantastic option as long as you take care not to overcook the squid and render it rubbery. Without any shells, however, you’ll also need a bit of seafood stock to add to the sauce. As a final option, you could use mussels. The dish will definitely have a different overall character, but the flavours should work beautifully.

Nero di Seppia Pasta

Nero di seppia is Italian for cuttlefish ink. We frequently translate this as squid ink, and while squid (and most octopus) do produce ink, it is the related cuttlefish that generally provides the ink used to make pasta. The pasta itself is, of course, jet black. This visual element is a big part of the appeal, but it’s not the only reason to use the stuff. Cuttlefish ink also imparts a flavour that is at once briny and earthy. It’s distinctive, but not especially bold, meaning that it can be used in plenty of different situations.

Nero di Seppia pasta is not especially hard to find, though it’s obviously not as common as conventional pasta. Try an Italian specialty store or a gourmet store. If you’re in Canada, President’s Choice sells the variety that I bought and I love it. The price is higher than normal pasta too, but it’s not going to break the bank (I think it was about $5).

You can definitely make this with normal pasta too, though you’ll obviously lose some of the visual impact and the subtle flavour. If you do use regular pasta, consider adding a bit of seafood stock to the pot when you boil it. If you’re looking for the same visual impact in a gluten-free pasta, there are some really interesting noodles made with black beans that are a similar jet-black colour. These can be hard to find of course, but they are an interesting option.

Nero di seppia pasta doesn’t require any kind of special treatment, and should be cooked to al dente the same way you would cook any other pasta.

Saffron

If you’re worried about the cost or difficulty of using saffron, don’t fret. I covered a lot of the details about saffron in my recent Sparkling Saffron Cocktail recipe, but I’ll cover the bases again here. First of all, you get the best flavour by lightly toasting and then soaking the saffron threads in warm water, ideally for about 4 hours. Secondly, while saffron is expensive by weight, you’re not using much of it here. A little goes a very long way. The recipe instructions below explain how to use the saffron, but if you’re interested in learning more, check out the cocktail recipe I mentioned above (plus, it makes a great drink to go with this meal!).

Chilies and Heat

There are a few different options when it comes to using chilies here, so I thought I’d explain. The recipe simply specifies crushed red chilies, though I specifically used Chinese Chilies (aka Chiles Japones). Any relative spicy, bold red chili pepper will work fine, and you can make you choice based on the degree of heat you want in the dish. As it is, the final sauce is only mildly spicy. This is in part thanks to the fact that the chilies are fried in oil, which brings out their flavour but diminishes their fiery punch. Adjust to taste, and bear in mind that the mascarpone will have a heat-quenching effect. If you want more heat, consider using a spicier chili pepper, or consider adding crushed chili flakes to the tomato sauce as it simmers.

Mascarpone Cheese

This is another pricey ingredient used in relatively small quantities. To offset the cost, buy the smallest quantity that you can and/or plan a delightfully decadent dessert (e.g. tiramisu) to use up the rest. You could theoretically use a very nice (ideally homemade) ricotta as well, though it will lack the rich creaminess of the mascarpone.

Timing and Technique

Nothing involved in this recipe is difficult, but you do need to make sure that you’re organized and prepared well ahead of time. The saffron should be prepared well ahead of time – ideally 4 hours in advance. If that creates timing problems, simply prepare the saffron the night before and put the colourful saffron water ‘extract’ in the fridge over night.

Once the saffron is out of the way, the rest of the dish comes together quite quickly. Peel the prawns and make sure you keep all of the shells, then make your spot prawn stock immediately. While it cooks, you can prepare everything else you need for the stock.

As for the sauce itself, if you follow the directions you should find it easy enough. Use the best quality diced canned tomatoes that you can (you can use fresh, but I would only recommend this if you have experience making tomato sauce, as the cooking techniques differ). If you can’t find good diced tomatoes, buy whole canned plum tomatoes and dice them yourself. Make sure you keep the juice from the can! I like a relatively smooth sauce, but you can leave it chunky/rustic if you like. An immersion blender is one of my favourite inexpensive kitchen tools, as it makes blending sauces like this a snap. Without one, you can always transfer the sauce to a blender or food processor, though you’ll add a step (and dishes).


Nutrition Facts
Spot Prawns with Nero di Seppia Pasta
Amount Per Serving
Calories 693 Calories from Fat 225
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 25g 38%
Saturated Fat 11g 55%
Trans Fat 1g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 5g
Cholesterol 223mg 74%
Sodium 1117mg 47%
Potassium 650mg 19%
Total Carbohydrates 81g 27%
Dietary Fiber 7g 28%
Sugars 10g
Protein 36g 72%
Vitamin A 43%
Vitamin C 49%
Calcium 23%
Iron 26%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Nutritional Summary

GOOD NEWS:
This is a very nutritionally dense and complete meal. Pasta is always calorie-dense, but with this combination of ingredients it’s also vitamin rich and loaded with protein.

BAD NEWS:
Pasta makes for plenty of calories, and mascarpone makes for a fair bit of fat. Consume a reasonable portion and add a side salad or other veggie if you’re worried you’ll still be hungry.

Ingredient Pages

No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe.  Like to see one?  Let me know in the comments below or by email.

Pantry Pages

  • Pescetarian

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Spot Prawns in a spicy tomato sauce with mascarpone and nero di seppia (cuttlefish ink) pasta - Diversivore.com
Spot Prawns with Nero di Seppia Pasta
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Servings Prep Time
4 people 15 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
45 minutes 4 hours
Servings Prep Time
4 people 15 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
45 minutes 4 hours
Spot Prawns in a spicy tomato sauce with mascarpone and nero di seppia (cuttlefish ink) pasta - Diversivore.com
Spot Prawns with Nero di Seppia Pasta
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Servings Prep Time
4 people 15 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
45 minutes 4 hours
Servings Prep Time
4 people 15 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
45 minutes 4 hours
Ingredients
Spot Prawn Stock
Sauce
To Serve
Servings: people
Units:
Instructions
Prep
  1. (Optional but recommended) Wrap the saffron in a small square of aluminum foil, then toast in a hot pan or oven for about 1 minute. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool.
  2. Lightly crush the saffron threads (e.g. with a mortar and pestle) and place into a small container. Pour hot water over the saffron, then loosely cover the liquid and set it aside, ideally for about 4 hours (see note).
  3. Peel the spot prawn tails (take care - they've got some spines) and set the shells aside for making the stock.
Spot Prawn Stock
  1. In a small saucepan, heat 2 tsp of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the crushed chilies and allow them to sizzle for about 30 seconds. Add the spot prawn shells and continue to cook for another minute, stirring a little to mix everything together. Add 3/4 cup of water, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer.
  2. Cook the stock for 15 minutes, then remove from heat and cool. Strain the stock to remove the prawn shells and peppers, then set aside.
Sauce
  1. Add butter and olive oil to a large saucepan or pot on the stovetop. Heat over medium. Once the butter has melted, add the onions and saute for 5-7 minutes, or until the onions are fragrant and somewhat translucent.
  2. Add the garlic and saute for another minute.
  3. Add the diced tomatoes and their tomato juice to the pot. Stir to combine.
  4. Add the saffron water to the pot and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover the pot and simmer over slightly reduced heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the sauce thickens too much or is in danger of scorching, add a little water.
  5. Add the spot prawn stock to the sauce, stir to combine, and simmer for an additional 20 minutes.
  6. Use an immersion blender (or transfer the sauce to a blender/food processor) to blend the sauce to the desired consistency. I like it relatively smooth, but you can leave it chunky/rustic if you prefer.
  7. Salt to taste. If ready to serve, leave the sauce simmering over low heat. If not, remove from heat and return it to a simmer before continuing to the next step.
To Serve
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta until al dente, per the package instructions. Drain the pasta, retaining about 1/4 cup to add to the sauce.
  2. Add the spot prawns and about 1/4 cup of the pasta water to the sauce. Continue to simmer until the prawns are just cooked through (about 3 minutes). Take care not to overcook the prawns, as they will become rubbery.
  3. Plate individual portions of pasta. Top each serving with sauce. Add a large dollop (about 2 tbsp) of mascarpone, then top with 5 prawns and a little chopped parsley. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Cooking the chilies in oil brings out some of their flavour but also reduces some of the heat. I used small dried red chilies (Chinese chilies) and the end result was a pasta with only a hint of spice. If you want something a little bit spicier, you can add more chilies to taste during the stock-making portion, or add a few extra dashes of crushed chilies while the sauce is simmering.

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Comments

  1. I like how you handle Italian (ish) dishes, with respect and creativity. This pasta looks stunning and the flavors work very well together. I appreciate that you broke down the ingredients, giving prices, tips, and alternatives. I am intrigued by the saffron in the sauce, and I am sure it ties the sauce to the overall dish. Also, the mascarpone is a nice addition. When stirring the pasta together with the sauce, I envision the mascarpone melting and blending, giving the sauce that rosé color and a creamy flavor.
    P.s. There is a blogger appreciation chain going on, we were nominated by someone, and in our turn, we nominated few blogs we love, including yours. Here is the link to our post: http://www.sugarlovespices.com/sour-cherry-mini-galettes/
    Cheers!

    1. Author

      Thank you so much Nicoletta. Honestly, I’m so pleased to hear you say that, given that you’re not only an amazing talented cook, and an Italian cook to boot! I know there are those out there who don’t particularly appreciate experimentation with pasta and Italian food, but I think that’s a terrible shame. If you work from the foundations of Italian cooking, treating the ingredients with reverence and respect, you can create so many wonderful and delicious dishes. Italian food is incredible, but I personally think that it’s that technical foundation and focus on simplicity that’s truly a gift to the world. In my mind, there’s still plenty of room for more ‘Italian-ish’ recipes!

      Thank you so much for the nomination! I’m truly flattered. As you can no doubt tell by the date on this response, I’m a little behind at the moment, but I’m going to take a bit of time to try to share the love here. And for the record, those sour cherry galettes are one of my favourite posts on your site. I am a true fan of all things sour-cherry. Thank you again, and cheers!

  2. As you know, I’m a big fan of our local spot prawns. There is nothing that compares! Yes, they’re pricey to buy now, but after viewing first-hand some of the shrimp farms in Southeast Asia earlier this year, I’m even more committed to buying local prawns. We’re lucky enough to be able to catch our own—sometimes! The first time we went out this spring, we caught our limit. Last week? 2! Two little prawns in the trap after 4 hours! It’s a good thing it was a beautiful day to just be out on the ocean.
    This is a really interesting recipe that I’m going to have to try! I love your toasted saffron tip!

    1. Author

      I couldn’t agree more Elaine! True, they’re pricey – but they directly (and significantly) support our local fishermen and women, and they’re incredible. Plus, as you point out, we’re ignoring the true cost of ‘cheap shrimp’ when we buy a frozen bag at the grocery store. The environmental and social issues that entangle those products are too significant to ignore.
      I’d love to follow your lead one of these days and to try to get out there to catch my own prawns. Having grown up in the prairies, I’m suddenly finding myself curious about all of the DIY seafood I could have access too now that I’ve settled here on the Pacific coast. I guess it’s never too late to start. And as for the catch variation… well, that’s what fishing’s all about, right? 😀
      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Cheers!

  3. What a nice fancy dish for date night! I was always wondering about the difference between prawn and shrimp, and langoustine for that matter. My grandmother in France always used langoustine, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen any at the store. This dish looks great, and I never would’ve thought to use mascarpone this way! I’m sure you and your wife enjoyed this.

    1. Author

      Thank you Gabrielle! Yeah, shrimp and prawn are definitely confusing terms. Seafood in general is plagued by nomenclature issues, and very few stores or restaurants are doing much to try to remedy the problem. I hope we see much better labeling and clearer naming conventions as we move into the future. Langoustines are, thankfully, somewhat clearer. Also called Norway lobsters or scampi, are smallish, thin lobsters with prominent claws. I think in North America, outside of Quebec, you’re more likely to find them labeled as scampi. They’re in the same family as Atlantic lobsters, though we tend to use them more like prawns. Of course things never stay clear for long, as the term ‘lobster’ also refers to spiny lobsters, which don’t have large claws and are in a different family all together. Yeesh. Anyway, thanks for commenting, and I’m glad you like the recipe. The mascarpone is a totally indulgent and dreamily delicious touch here, and I hope you’ll get to give it a try some time. Cheers!

  4. I love spot prawns and don’t mind the extra expense for a quality local ingredient. This is a delicious looking dish and sounds super flavourful. And the squid ink spaghetti makes a stunning presentation. Great work!

    1. Author

      I’m with you Colleen. They’re worth the price. I’m glad you like the recipe, and the pasta in particular. It’s a fun ingredient to work with. Cheers!

  5. Sean, this dish is absolutely jaw dropping (as in, my mouth was actually hanging open when I opened this page!). The combination of ingredients sounds divine and as always I appreciate the educational component. I love the approachable, upscale vibe happening here. Now if only I could find some gorgeous, reasonably priced spot prawns here in Calgary! 😉

    1. Author

      Thank you so much Justine! That really makes me happy. I was aiming for elegant and bold but doable, and I’m glad to see that’s coming across. I know it can be tough to find spot prawns in your area without paying an arm and a leg, but I actually have an idea on that front – Calgary has recently been invaded by crayfish, which are native to regions further north in the province. They’re considered invasive in the area, and they seem to be flourishing. They’re probably not showing up in local stores right now, but if you can make the right connections (or go catch them yourself in Nose Creek or Bow River), you could have an amazing prairie version of this recipe on your hands. In fact, the next time I’m in Calgary for more than a few days, I’m going to to see if I can figure out how to get my hands on a few crayfish myself! Cheers, and thanks for your lovely comments.

      1. Author

        A bit of further reading and I want to leave a little addendum to my previous comment. The crayfish themselves are great, but the waterways they live in might not always be pristine. If you (or anyone in Calgary) looks into eating invasive crayfish, make sure to bear in mind issues like runoff, pollution, etc. That being said, if they continue their prolific spread in the region, they’ll probably end up in some pristine waterways… which is bad for the environment, but good (I guess) for anyone who wants to eat them. It’s an interesting situation anyway.
        Check out the CBC link if you’d like to learn more!

  6. This dish looks amazing and very gourmet (not in a bad way, I swear). I’ve never tried nero di seppia pasta, but now I’m intrigued. Spot prawns are my favourite protein to add to pasta dishes and I love the way everything in this recipe ties together nicely. Oh, and I definitely need to up my tomato sauce game. 🙂

    1. Author

      Thank you Jessica! Don’t worry, I take gourmet as a compliment. 🙂 I think it’s funny that we’ve attached such a stigma to gourmet food – there’s an attitude that it’s overly fussy or unattainable, but I think that’s undeserved. Food can express so much, and a gourmet meal can be used to truly express the care and love that you feel for others. When I make something like this, I’m saying “I wanted to make you something special, because you’re special and you deserve it.” That doesn’t mean this was difficult or complicated – it was just special.

      I hope you’ll be inspired to give the tomato sauce a try. I used basic jarred sauces for a long time – I was picky about the ones I liked, but still, it was just convenient. But when I started making scratch sauces, I was pretty amazed not only by the flavour, but by how cheap and easy it really was. It’s one of those things you try only to find that you can’t go back! 🙂

  7. This looks like perfection!!! I haven’t eaten much shrimp recently, because it can be hard to find Pacific shrimp here, and I won’t buy the imported shrimp (although the little salad shrimp from the Gulf are pretty easy to find!). And I wasn’t sure what to do with squid ink pasta- but I love your idea of serving it with seafood– Perfect!!!

    1. Author

      Thank you Sarah! I understand – it’s frustratingly hard to find good shrimp away from the coast (and even on the coast at times), thanks in no small part to the over-abundance of cheap farmed shrimp coming from Asia. Those little gulf shrimp can be pretty spectacular though, and I’m sure you could do something great here with them. Ooh, or lobster! A perfectly cooked lobster tail and/or some claws, sliced into nice pieces would be amazing here. Different of course, but amazing! I’m glad you like the pasta suggestion too. I’m sure I could do all kinds of things with nero di seppia pasta, but seafood just makes perfect sense. Cheers!

  8. This is a wonderful recipe Sean! I just love to serve black pasta, or squid ink pasta as it is wrongly called. It always makes for spectacular dishes!!

  9. Sean, this post is fabulous. This photograph is such eye-candy. Every time I visit, I whisper “oh wow…look at this.” This recipe looks terrific and all the background info too. Very complete. Your website is beautiful. I always enjoy visiting.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much Kim! I’m really flattered (I’m going to get a big head with all of these sweet comments on the photography). I’m glad you liked it, and I’m REALLY glad you appreciate the extra info. I sincerely hope that anyone coming across this recipe will leave feeling like they can truly achieve it in their own kitchen. Three cheers for cooking, and not just looking! 😀

  10. Love the romantic side of you with the date night reminiscing. It is so easy to get caught up in our day that we forget to take a look (a real look) at the ones we love that are right in front of us. Creating and enjoying a meal together is a fabulous way to connect with your partner. I will slate this for a future date night with the Hubby. I am positive we will take a moment to sit back and enjoy.

    1. Author

      Heh, well thank you. Admittedly I tend to talk much more about the food itself than its connections to my life, but this recipe certainly had a very personal (and very positive) place in my life. I definitely agree with you though – it’s a little too easy to take the important people in our lives for granted – especially as the spinning vortex of madness we call ‘real life’ threatens to topple us on a daily basis. I believe that sharing a meal – especially a homemade one – is not only important for connecting with your partner, but with your family and anyone important. Food is a universal need, and the love of food connects us in ways that are difficult to truly articulate. I hope that you’ll get a chance to share this recipe with your husband – and I hope that it will mean something wonderful to both of you as well.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much Kathryn! My wife has been dropping hints that we should have this one again. I think it’s a definite date-night keeper. I hope you have a great time with it, and thanks for the compliments! Cheers.

  11. I have been looking for a way to use squid ink pasta so I can get some from the farmer’s market! This recipe looks amazing and my mouth is watering just thinking about it with all its seafood possibilities – lobster, crawfish, squid… I’m not sure I’ve seen spot prawns available around here but I could definitely pick up one of the other options, or they might have them at the organic grocery store (the only place I can find fresh calamari!). I can’t wait to make this and enjoy with some tiramisu like you suggested, and a nice glass of wine! Sounds like a perfect date night on the back deck with the cafe lights setting the mood!

    1. Author

      I admire your restraint Caroline. My general approach is to impulse buy odd things and then to desperately brainstorm what I can do with them later (usually while the clock is ticking and they’re at risk of going bad). It’s a bit of a stressful approach… but I guess Diversivore wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have this bad habit! 😀
      I’m totally with you on the variations. In fact, I’ve already mentioned lobster and crayfish (crawfish, crawdad, little pinchy river bugs, whatever) in some of my responses to other commenters! Because the pasta and the saffron work so wonderfully with seafood, you’ve really got all kinds of options. If you do give a variation a try, I hope you’ll come back and let me know! Good luck with your date night plan – it sounds like it’ll be a hit. In fact, I can’t imagine how it could be anything BUT a hit! 😀

  12. Im loving this recipe on so many levels. Your photography shows how beautiful a few ingredients can turn into something magical. My husband walked behind me as I was reading it and has now requested it be added to our dinner plans for the week. I smiled when I read your comment about how you feel like you say it all the time about how something may look spectacular and really complex but in actuality it is really quite approachable and simple to make… I say that all of the time on so many of my recipes too…. great food need not take lots of work! Ive never used saffron in the way you’ve suggested and now can’t wait to try it out… its one of my favorite subtle flavors to use in seafood dishes (despite the cost of it) and Im always looking for ways to use it. At my husbands request I have added the items to my grocery list and we’ll be having it this weekend with some friends!

    1. Author

      Thanks Michele! I’m glad your husband was smitten with this one, and I really hope that it was a hit! I think those of us who truly love to cook often come across that strange juxtaposition of fancy and simple. Food can be truly special and mind-blowing without being some elaborate and insanely complicated process, achievable only with high-end tools and years of culinary experience. Care, creativity, and attention to detail – those are the keys to truly spectacular food.

      I’m glad that you like the saffron. I’ve been working with it lately and I had an ‘a-ha!’ moment when I was brainstorming this recipe. The iodine flavour it imparts is so wonderful with seafood (e.g. paella), I knew it would work perfectly here. The cost seems so exorbitant at first, but a little bit makes such a difference, and it truly feels worth it once you start working with it. After all, many of us will spend a small fortune on good steak or lobster – why not spend a little on a good spice? Once you get past the misleading cost/size ratio, it actually starts to feel pretty affordable.

      Thanks for coming by, and thanks for the comments. Cheers!

  13. I was immediately intrigued by this dish because I rarely think of using Nero di Seppia with any kind of dairy. I loved your description of the tomato sauce as a blank canvas to have other flavors built into, because even though it’s something most of us do with many types of cooking, I think tomato sauce is one of the sauce we are all tempted to leave as-is. This really is a showstopper date night meal, and I wish I could make the trip up for the festival. It sounds amazing!

    1. Author

      You know, it’s funny that you put it that way, but it does seem like an odd combination. The thing is, I think that I tend to put mascarpone in it’s own strange little box… sure it’s dairy, but it’s also a weird sort of hybrid between cheese and cream, dessert and savoury. It seems to defy expectations a little, and to break moulds. In any case, it’s a dream here, and I’m really glad you liked it! I’m also pleased that my comments about tomato sauce struck a chord with you. Hopefully you’ll get a chance to make it to the spot prawn festival some day – but even if you don’t, I hope you can get your hands on some of these wonderful crustaceans! I’m sure you’d do great things with them 🙂

  14. I have everything I need for this except the chiles. I couldn’t find any red/Chinese chiles at the store – is there anything else I can use instead, or somewhere I should look for them? I looked in the produce section and with the spices. I was thinking of just putting red pepper flakes in the stock.

    1. Author

      Any nice, moderately spicy, small red chili should work fine. You could use dried Thai bird’s eye chilies, though you may want to use a bit less as they tend to be hotter. Ditto for arbol chilies. Honestly, even basic ‘crushed chilies’ that you find in a shaker at pizza places will work as long as their fresh and decent quality. Red pepper flakes should likewise work fine, and if you’re concerned that there isn’t enough heat (though I make it with only a whisper of spice) you could add some cayenne pepper to give it a bit of punch. Good luck to you!!

        1. Author

          Wonderful!! I’m so glad it worked well for you Caroline! I think you’re right, there is a bit of a bouillabaisse sort of feel to this one. I hadn’t thought of that before – good call! And seriously, thanks so much for letting me know. It always makes me smile when I know somebody has enjoyed a recipe I’ve created.

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