[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]
It’s no secret that we love condiments around these parts, particularly ones that are able to shine on their own but can also play a supporting flavor role when added to a dish. Rich and savory XO sauce is a quintessential example of condiment versatility—it’s like a culinary cheat code for flavor, and it’s worth having in your fridge at all times.
This quick and easy pasta riffs on Kenji’s blistered-cherry-tomato sauce with a half cup of XO stirred into the mix. XO gives the sauce the umami depth of a long-simmered ragù, without sacrificing fresh tomato flavor or hours of your time.
Why It Works
- Sweet and bright cherry tomatoes quickly cook down, and burst into a rich, emulsified fresh-tomato sauce, thanks to their natural pectin content.
- Stirring umami-rich XO into the tomato sauce gives it the savory depth of an all-day ragù, but in a fraction of the time.
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound (450g) short pasta, such as casarecce or gemelli
- 1/4 cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium shallots (80g), thinly sliced
- 4 medium garlic cloves (20g), thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes (about 2 pints; 675g)
- 1/2 cup (140g) XO sauce, store-bought or homemade
- Pinch finely ground dried Thai chilies or red pepper flakes (optional; see note)
- 1/2 ounce fresh basil leaves (1 loosely packed cup; 15g), roughly chopped
- 1/2 ounce fresh mint leaves (1 loosely packed cup; 15g), roughly chopped
In a pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until just shy of al dente (about 1 minute less than the package directs). Drain pasta, reserving 1 1/2 cups (360ml) cooking water.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add shallots, season lightly with salt, and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until shallots are softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is softened as well, about 2 minutes longer.
Add cherry tomatoes, shaking skillet to distribute them in an even layer, and cook, stirring and swirling the pan frequently, until tomatoes begin to burst, about 5 minutes. You can coax the tomatoes into bursting by pressing down on them with a wooden spoon, but leave some tomatoes whole for juicy pops of flavor in the finished dish.
Continue to cook and stir tomato mixture until it forms a creamy, emulsified sauce, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Add XO sauce and ground dried chilies (if using), stir to combine, and season to taste with salt.
Add pasta and half of the reserved cooking water (3/4 cup; 180ml) to skillet with cherry tomato sauce. Increase heat to high and cook, swirling and tossing skillet constantly, until pasta is al dente and sauce is thickened and coats noodles, about 1 minute. If the sauce over-reduces (it should pool around the edges of the skillet), add more pasta-cooking water in 1/4-cup increments to loosen it.
Remove from heat, stir in basil and mint, and season to taste with more salt. Serve immediately.
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