I'm really quite proud of this little recipe, as it came about during one of our "staff meetings" when we were having a brainstorm about what we would actually like to eat as opposed to what we thought we should have to eat. I can remember thinking, as we were contemplating complimentary flavours for it, that less is more and this was definitely one of those pasta dishes.
Now I know that smoked mackerel isn't to everyone's liking, but for this recipe I've used some honey smoked mackerel which is a lot milder in flavour than the peppered or just straight smoked versions. I heartily recommend that you go for a sweeter type of smoked mackerel, as not doing so will affect the sweet/savoury balance. If you just can't find any, don't despair, just add a half a teaspoonful of honey along with the tomatoes and you'll be fine.
Speaking of tomatoes, I recommend raspberry tomatoes if you can get them. They are really big, quite fleshy tomatoes with a gorgeously rich tomato flavour - and perfect for something like this. I get mine from my local Polish delicatessen, so if all else fails, try your closest Polish shop or even an Ethnic shop if you have one.
The recipe doesn't have a sauce as such, as quite simply the extra virgin olive oil and tomatoes (devoid of seeds, but still full of juice) combine with the shallots, pepper and capers to make this dish anything but dry. The oiliness of the smoked mackerel is tempered by the tomatoes but the secret weapon of the dish are the capers. Every now and then your tongue trips over one and the intense flavour just wakes up your palate, all ready to again be soothed and comforted by the spaghetti and green pesto.
I hesitate to draw your attention to the fact, but this dish is also extraordinarily good for you. Nutritionally, I reckon it's probably one of the best I've come up with in some time. But let's skip lightly over that and concentrate on how good it tastes, eh? After all, I don't want to put anyone off it by shouting too loudly about how good it is for you.
As for the Cook's Tips, the recipe is so simple I don't have many. Just to say to make sure that you have the spaghetti water boiling before you put the shallots on to cook, or you'll be waiting for the pasta while your tomatoes are cooking instead of heating up, which will spoil the texture if not the flavour.
Oh - and don't forget to rinse the capers.
So, onwards to the recipe!
SMOKED MACKEREL, CAPERS & TOMATO SPAGHETTI WITH PESTO (serves 3)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
250g dried spaghetti
2 large full flavoured tomatoes, pips removed, diced
6 cherry tomatoes, pips removed, quartered
2 tbsp capers, rinsed of salt or brine
half a tsp ground black pepper
a good pinch of sea salt
4 honey smoked mackerel fillets, skinned, boned and flaked into small chunks
2 tbsp fresh basil leaves
3 heaped tsp green pesto, to serve
1 tbsp chopped parsley, to serve.
Begin by putting a large pan of water on to boil.
Next, heat the extra virgin olive oil over a low heat in a frying pan. Add the chopped shallot and fry very gently until softened.
When the water comes to a boil, add the dried spaghetti and cook to manufacturer's instructions (usually around 10-12 minutes).
In the meantime, add all the tomatoes, capers, black pepper and sea salt to the shallots and just warm them through, without really cooking them. They should be distinctly warm to the touch before the next stage.
Once the spaghetti is cooked to your preference, drain and return to the hot pan.
Add the tomato mixture, the flaked mackerel and tear the basil leaves into the pan. Stir through gently and serve immediately with an extra splash of extra virgin olive oil.
Garnish with a good heaped teaspoonful of green pesto and a light sprinkle of chopped parsley.