While I’m generally a little suspicious about the baseless seduction of nostalgia and our collective memories being strip-mined and sold back to us in a way that amounts to little more than jingling keys in front of a baby to distract it; I’ve nonetheless found myself sighing nostalgically for the early days of Instagram, where you’d merrily and heedlessly post grainy, filtered photos of a coffee cup or the clouds and it wasn’t an ad-clogged video platform with all the ambience of an abandoned shopping mall. But though Instagram is dimly lit by sputtering fluorescent lightbulbs and there’s a persistent sound of dripping water, there is still joy and inspiration to be found within its murky aisles: specifically, the Creamy Gochujang Tomato Pasta that Bettina Makalintal posted on her fantastic crispyegg420 account. I saw it, I wanted to make it, I made it, it was delicious, and now I’ve begrudgingly said one nice thing about Instagram as a result.
My interpretation of this enticing recipe title involves stirring tomato paste, gochujang, and a finely chopped slurry of sundried tomatoes over high heat, before adding pasta water and coconut cream to soften it up. I was after a minimal sauce that clings to the pasta for dear life as opposed to providing a pool it can swim in, but a heavier hand on the cream will do this no harm (and I can understand if the “creamy” aspect of the title isn’t represented well enough for some of you via this quantity of sauce) nor will increasing the gochujang if you want the fieriness more pronounced.
The gochujang has a dense, layered spiciness — not just heat, but a captivating yet subtle sweetness and tangy richness from the rice paste and its fermentation process. Naturally, it’s magnificent alongside the fresh acidic sweetness of tomato paste, itself caramelised into richness by the pan’s heat. The sundried tomatoes provide the midpoint between the two other red ingredients: intense and savoury, but darkly sweet.
The entire sauce can be made while your pasta is boiling, and the result is comforting without being stultifying, luscious without overwhelming, and immensely layered and flavoursome despite the minimal quantities of ingredients. And — the inspiration continues — as I was chopping the sundried tomatoes it occurred to me that for an even speedier version of this recipe you could simply replace the tomatoes and gochujang with a few heaping tablespoons of vegan gochujang bokkeum. The hardest part of this recipe was locating the particular pasta that I had my heart set on, which turned out to be available at a minimart just around the corner — the jaunty doi-oi-oing springs of fusilli bucati corti make any meal feel like an achievement. A shorter pasta is, I think, all the better here, but there’s really no wrong way to eat this and you certainly don’t need a fancy shape: bowties, penne, even just spaghetti would all be wonderful and benefit from that trois couleurs: rouge (I’m working my way through Kieślowski’s film trilogy if you couldn’t tell) sauce.
Creamy Gochujang Tomato Pasta
Spicy and luscious with caramelised tomato hugging every curve of the pasta. You can of course add more gochujang or cream or grate over a cloud of parmesan; however, this is how I made it and it was delicious. This recipe is directly inspired by Bettina Makalintal’s Instagram post and I recommend following her for further inspiration. Serves 2.
- 200g short and ridged or curly pasta of your choice (I used fusilli bucati corti)
- salt, for the pasta water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon gochujang
- 6 sundried tomatoes
- 1/4 cup coconut cream, or cream of your choice, plus more to taste
- Leaves from 2-3 stems of fresh thyme, for garnish
1: Heat a large pan of water and generously salt it once it hits boiling point. Tip in the 200g pasta and let it boil away for 11-12 minutes or until the pasta is tender.
2: Once the pasta is in the water, finely chop the six sundried tomatoes, almost as if you’re trying to turn them into a paste (and if you want this finer-textured, have a stick blender, and don’t mind the extra dishes, feel free to pulverise them into an actual paste that way.)
3: Heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and dollop in the four tablespoons of tomato paste and single tablespoon of gochujang, followed by the finely-chopped sundried tomatoes. Stir this mixture over a high heat for about five minutes — it may appear loose-textured and like it doesn’t want to stick together, but the addition of cream and pasta water later on will turn it into a sauce. The mixture will darken in colour a little as you stir it; this is ideal and adds to the intensity of the tomato flavour.
4: Once the pasta is nearly al dente, remove 1/4 cup of the cooking water and stir it into the tomato mixture, followed by the 1/4 cup of coconut cream. At first the mixture will appear a rather oily and garish orange, but keep stirring and it will grow darker and more richly red as it bubbles away. At this point, it’s up to you whether you want to add more cream to make this (of course) creamier, or a little more pasta water to make it saucier. Remove the tomato mixture pan from the heat, drain the now-cooked pasta, and stir it into the sauce. Divide the pasta between two plates and sprinkle over the thyme leaves.
If you mistime the pasta and have thoroughly cooked it before you’ve started the sauce, just remove half a cup or so of the pasta water, drain the remaining water from the pasta, and tip the pasta back into its still-hot pan (though keeping it off the element it was just cooking on, otherwise it will burn) while you finish the sauce.
Hellbound by The Breeders, it sounds very 1990 but also, without too much reaching, like kids with teased beehive hairdos in the 1960s could do elaborate dances to it with names like The Hucklebuck and The Sprained Ankle; needless to say I love it.
I’ve Been Thinking About You by Londonbeat, the way it starts out at 100 miles an hour, the emphatic stab on each word in the chorus, what an eternal masterpiece.
Auto Surgery by Therapy?, like, there’s not much more to it than going quiet then loud then quiet then loud but that’s all it needs! It works!
Les Feuilles Mortes by Juliette Greco, if you haven’t heard of her I recommend spending some time with her Wikipedia page, she truly lived, meanwhile amongst all that living she was also a skilled singer, the simple, exquisite melancholy of this song really does evoke the falling autumn leaves of the title. If you’re feeling gloomy, this will make you feel gloomy but super cool at the same time, and sometimes that’s enough to make it through said gloom.
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