One of my favourite Instagram accounts belongs to my friend Katie. At @nytfortea, she reviews New York Times Cooking’s vegetarian (or veggie-adjacent) recipes, including star ratings, tweaks and overall impressions. The comments on NYT Cooking’s recipes are famously deranged – a mix of rambling personal stories and diatribes from people who swapped out half the ingredients and can’t understand why the recipe didn’t work – so instead, Katie’s Instagram has become a micro-recipe recommendation service, one I can always trust.
Recently, Katie made Caramelised Shallot Pasta, and I recalled noting down the recipe nearly two years ago – in the early days of lockdown one, it seemed like an ideal pantry meal – but then forgetting it, that jar of anchovies and bag of shallots diverted to other uses. But this week, nothing struck me as better or more comforting than methodically stirring a pan of shallots as they slowly burnished and sweetened, and so I decided now was finally the time to give it a try.
As written, this recipe makes one hell of an umami bomb, anchovies and a whole tube of tomato purée taking the sauce to growling depths of savouriness. I decided to heighten that with the vivid brine of capers, but also to balance it – I caramelised the shallots for longer to really bring out their sweetness (and added a tablespoon of brown sugar, too); I squeezed over lemon juice for freshness; I dropped in pine nuts for crunch; I quadrupled the crushed chillis to add lip-stinging heat; and I used creamy goat’s cheese as a garnish in addition to parsley.
Maybe I’m just like those NYT Cooking commenters after all, remixing and riffing until a recipe’s interpretation has become more of an ambient idea than a fixed reality. I’d encourage you to tinker further – double the capers or add tapenade in lieu of anchovies to make it vegetarian; skip the cheese, too, to make it vegan; garnish with oregano or basil or a mix of whatever herbs you already have sitting in the fridge; experiment to make it your own.
And I’d encourage you to pair it with a beer, of course. I picked Brick Brewery’s Dunkel for a few reasons: One, its sweetness offers another counterpoint to the pasta’s rich savouriness, and picks up the caramelised shallots; two, as a darker beer with minimal hop character, it’s well suited to mellowing, rather than boosting, chilli heat; and three, those umami notes in the dish really draw out its roasty character.
It’s one more bonus that this dunkel feels spiritually closer to a bock, with its tongue-coating mouthfeel, indulgent sweetness, and notes of raisin – and which, according to tradition, makes it all the more appropriate for long-awaited, edge-of-spring drinking and dining.
Caramelised Shallot and Tomato Pasta with Anchovies
Adapted from NYT Cooking
60ml olive oil
6 large échalion shallots, thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon crushed chillis
1 small (approx. 42g) jar anchovies, drained
1 small (approx. 120g)
jar capers, drained
100g pine nuts
1 130g tube tomato purée
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
500g short pasta variety
of your choosing
125g goat’s cheese
1 large bunch parsley, roughly chopped
1. Begin by making the sauce base. Place a large frying pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once hot but not smoking, add the shallots and garlic, and stir to coat. Season with salt and pepper and turn the heat down to low. Cook, stirring frequently, for 40-45 minutes, or until the shallots are deeply caramelised. (If they’re browning on the outside too quickly, turn the heat down as low as you can.)
2. Once the shallots are caramelised, add the crushed chillis, drained anchovies, drained capers and pine nuts. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, until the pine nuts look a little toasty and the anchovies have mostly dissolved.
3. Next, add the tube of tomato purée and mix through. Cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring frequently, until the tomato purée is a deep, brick red. Mix through the light brown sugar and squeeze over the lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed (though note that the salty pasta water will be mixed into the sauce later, so be careful not to oversalt at this stage.) Remove from the heat and set aside.
4. Bring a Dutch oven or other large pot of water to the boil, and salt generously. Add the pasta and cook until very al dente (cook for one or two minutes fewer than the package instructions say for al dente). Drain, reserving approximately 500ml of the pasta water.
5. Return the pasta to the pot and add the caramelised shallot base, as well as half of the reserved pasta water. Place over medium heat and stir constantly for 3-4 minutes, or until the sauce clings to the noodles and is well emulsified. If it's looking a little dry or you’d like the sauce to be a little thinner or glossier, continue to add the remaining pasta water in small additions. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
6. To serve, divide between bowls or plates. Crumble over the goat’s cheese and top with the chopped parsley. Serve immediately.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer hound and all-around lover of tasty things. You can follow her at @clairembullen. For more recipes like this, sign up to our HB&B All Killer No Filler beer subscription - you'll receive Claire's recipe and food pairings, plus beer reviews and expert tasting notes with up to 12 world-class beers - like this one - every month.