This used to be a lovely recipe, now it is incredible. The small difference, with a huge effect, between how I used to make it and how I make it now is down to just one ingredient: black garlic.
Black garlic is made by taking regular fresh garlic bulbs and heating them under controlled conditions for several weeks. This results in the breaking down of the enzymes which give garlic its characteristic flavour, mellowing and richening the flavour (and the colour) and imparting sweet and sour notes, resulting in something that tastes somewhere between the best aged balsamic and tamarind. It has a reputation in Asia of being a superfood, and the cloves can be eaten as a snack. They’re actually lovely eaten that way.
Here though, the substitution of regular garlic for black garlic results in a hugely complex flavour, full of umami and requiring real self-control if you’re going to avoid eating every last morsel of this dish.
The other trick to dish is to not skimp on the olive oil. It is central to making the sauce so unctuous as it combines with the tomato juices. It’s not one for dieters then, but as an occasional indulgence it’s a real treat.
RECIPE serves 4
1kg cherry tomatoes, halved around the equator (not pole-to-pole)
7 tbsp olive oil
5 black garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
350g shell pasta
the zest of a lemon
the juice of half a lemon
a handful of basil leaves
25g Parmesan, finely grated
Heat your oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4.
Put the tomatoes, cut side up, in a roasting tray in which they will all fit in a single layer. Add the black garlic, dried chilli flakes and fresh chilli, and season generously with the salt and pepper. Drizzle with the oil and toss everything together. Arrange the tomatoes, ensuring the chilli and black garlic is sitting in the oil to protect it from burning.
Roast the tomatoes for 20-25 minutes until they are just starting to collapse and caramelise.
Meanwhile, cook the shell pasta in rapidly-boiling water per the packet instructions, until al dente. Shell pasta is best because it provides pockets to catch the sauce, but this dish also works well with thick strips of pasta (pappardelle). Time the pasta to be ready at the end of the tomato cooking time.
Drain the pasta, but don’t shake the colander too vigorously, leave a little of the water because it helps to thicken up and richen the sauce.
Add the lemon zest and juice to the tomatoes, together with the basil leaves. Stir so it is evenly distributed, then tip the pasta into the tomatoes and using two spoons (or tongs if using pappardelle) toss the pasta through the tomatoes. Finish with a fine grating of Parmesan and a good grind of black pepper. Serve alongside a salad of rocket and lettuce, simply dressed with the juice of the other half a lemon.
To make it suitable for a vegan, omit the Parmesan, or use a Vegan substitute.