One thing that I can`t stop being amazed about in The Netherlands is that you can find a huge variety of fresh fish and seafood on the markets. Every proper market has at least one seafood stand. You have to watch out though to pick the real fresh fish as sometimes you there is imported frozen fish that could be misleading. One of my favourite markets is the Noordermarkt, which is a real farmers market. Farmers are selling their own fruits and vegetables, and the catch of the day is sold by a fisherman. This place is a real gem in the Jordaan district in the heart of Amsterdam. If you`re a foodie this is one of the best places to go on Saturday in the city. Just enjoy the inspiring display of diverse local products in this surprisingly untouristy crowd (some markets can get a bit too full of tourists sometimes).
It was exactly one of these Saturdays when we came up with this recipe. Walking around in the market looking for something festive for a special celebratory dinner we ended up chatting with the fisherman, while making the tough decision of choosing between the sole fish and the crayfish. Maybe we will have another celebration for the sole as well someday…
Crayfish is like a miniature lobster, insanely tasty but way less expensive. The little fishes look a lot like prawns, but you soon realize the difference as you try to open them. The shells are much harder and they have tiny stingy thorns on their belly, so the only clever way to open them is to push on the sides to break the middle and then pull them apart. Unless you`re a natural, it might take a few scars until you get the hang of it, but it’s worth all the scars as the taste is unbeatable.
The pasta matches the elegance of the crayfish and is very pure and simple. There are no overpowering ingredients: just the fine taste of the fresh ingredients. The whole dish has an unexpected natural sweetness from the meat of the crayfish, the roasted bell pepper and cashews, and is balanced with lemon juice and fragrant thyme. A very royal and celebratory dish for the most special occasions.
Ingredients (serves 4):
- 4+3 garlic cloves
- 1 onion
- 4 red bell pepper
- 4 tablespoon of olive oil
- 2 thyme springs
- 400 grams of crayfish (raw, unpeeled)
- 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
- 350 grams of penne
- 60 grams of cashew nuts
- 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 200 C. Line an oven dish with baking parchment. On this, set 4 unpeeled garlic cloves, the red bell peppers and the quartered, unpeeled onion and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes. Let it cool down so that you can work with it. Remove skin and seeds from bell peppers. Tip half (2 peppers) into a blender. Chop the other half up and set aside. Peel and add roasted garlic and onion, thyme and cashews and blend for a few seconds until creamy (it does not have to be completely smooth). Add a few tablespoons of water if the mixture is too thick for the blender.
Cook penne according to the instructions on the package, save some cooking water when draining.
Peel and mince the remaining garlic, and heat up 2 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet. Toss garlic, chilli peppers and crayfish in the pan and roast for 5-7 minutes. Remove crayfish and set aside. Add pureed sauce, pasta, the remaining roasted pepper and some cooking water if the sauce is too thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Arrange pasta on plates, top with crayfish and serve with slices of lemon.