Border Crossings

By now, you all know that I enjoy myriad international cuisines.

When you consider each cuisine individually, it has its own personality comprised of distinctive tastes, often driven by a strongly-associated ingredient: kaffir lime in Thai food; saffron in Persian dishes; paprika in Hungarian goulashes and stews; cardamom in Indian curries; cumin in Middle Eastern cuisine; and tomatoes in an Italian ragù.

Sometimes, they are native to the regions in which they are famous - kaffir limes to Southeast Asia, cardamom to South Asia, and cumin to the Levant (the crescent of countries at the east end of the Mediterranean).

However, where would Persia be without saffron? Hungary without paprika? Italy with no tomatoes? Yikes! Can you imagine?

Saffron is native to Crete, paprika (capsicum) to the Americas, and tomatoes to Central America. How grateful we are to those who carried these wonderful flavors across borders!

When I was flipping through a Bon Appétit last summer, I came across a recipe with the uninspiring name: spaghetti with Sun Gold tomatoes. I wouldn't have given it a second glance except I had just bought a pint of Sun Gold tomatoes at the farmers market. (An aside: I am so bored with Bon Appétit these days - few new ideas, and the layout is completely annoying. Anyone else feel this way?)

As I read through the recipe, it really intrigued me for its list of cross-cultural ingredients. It started out with the standard basil and thyme, but then added tarragon for a licorice note. That in itself was different but just after the tarragon came the real surprises: star anise and cloves!

Star anise hails from Southern China and no longer grows anywhere in the wild. Cloves originated in the Molucca Islands in eastern Indonesia. Great examples of why I love the spice trade! (Markipedia knew right off where all these spices came from!)

The flavor of the dish was subtle, and so different from any other pasta sauce I have had. I have made it several times since, increasing the spices a bit and using red grape tomatoes when I couldn't find Sun Golds. It is really good and worth trying.

I love when flavors combine like this - crossing borders after centuries of trade. Fusion, right? After all, when you consider how much of what we eat is actually native to where we live, we are all eating across the border every day.

~ David

P.S. - Sorry, Italy; basil isn't native to Italy, either - it comes from South Asia!

Spaghetti with Sun Gold Tomatoes
minimally adapted from Bon Appétit, August 2013

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 sprigs basil (12 basil leaves)
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig tarragon
2 whole star anise pods
2 whole cloves
4 cups Sun Gold tomatoes, halved *
2 teaspoons Sherry vinegar
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
12 ounces spaghetti

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until soft but not brown, 6-8 minutes. Add basil, thyme, and tarragon sprigs, star anise, and clove, and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and vinegar.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes release their juices and a sauce forms, 10-15 minutes. Discard thyme, tarragon, and basil sprigs, star anise, and clove. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in a large pot of boiling, well-salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Add pasta and 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid to sauce in skillet. Cook, tossing and adding more pasta cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta, about 2 minutes.

Serve immediately. 

Makes 4 servings.

* If you cannot find Sun Gold tomatoes, use red grape or cherry tomatoes.

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