Thirteen years ago, The Slow Chef and I were living in Singapore. One night, when dining in a new Italian restaurant we noticed squid ink linguine on the menu. Nick called over the beautiful Singaporean waitress and asked “Is this squid ink pasta or pasta with squid ink sauce?”
“Squid ink sauce,” she replied.
“Incredible. We haven’t seen that on a menu since a trip to Venice 12 months ago,” The Slow Chef boasted.
We were slightly alarmed when this comment resulted in the chef being summonsed from the kitchen. “Where in Venice did you eat this dish?” the Italian chef barked. (Were we in trouble?)
“I can’t remember the name of the restaurant but if you head over the Ponte di Rialto from the Piazza San Marco side, take the second street on your left and then turn right. It was a small restaurant with beautiful timber floors and a nautical theme,” The Slow Chef reminisced. As he spoke, his eyes stared at the ceiling and I could see him re-tracking the journey in his mind. (Nick has an amazing sense of direction. I don’t. I couldn’t read a map to save my life.)
“I worked there!” exclaimed the Chef, now extremely friendly. He had been in that very kitchen in Venice the year before but had moved to Singapore with his new wife, the Singaporean waitress, 6 months ago. We had an amazing dinner that may never have occurred had we been able to read Italian.
Let me explain. We moved to London when Hannah was 11 months old. We had always wanted to travel so rather than spend a fortune on a 6 week whirlwind honeymoon in Europe, we decided to move there and really experience the life and culture. Nick lined up a job and once we were settled in Richmond, Surrey, we started travelling. Every weekend we either visited places around England by car or flew to the continent. When Nick had two weeks annual leave we flew to Italy, spending a week in Florence and a week in Venice. As we could not speak or read a word of Italian, we decided at the start of the trip not to ask for translations or English menus but we would simply point to a couple of items on the menu and see what turned up.
It’s pretty hard to go wrong in Italy but we did have a few mishaps; a plate of thinly sliced salami served with…nothing! Just salami. Another shock was a plate of chopped liver. It was dry – no gravy, just cooked liver. Hannah, now 18 months old, ate through most of the dish whilst I re-ordered. Our selection method also resulted in some amazing dishes that we would probably not have ordered had we understood what they were. Squid ink linguini was one such dish.
You can imagine my shock when a huge bowl of black, glossy, oily pasta was dropped in front of me. Definitely not something I had been expecting. Being the brave soul I am (OK, I’m not brave enough to consume an entire calves liver), I pressed on. The dish was amazing. Squid ink has quite a fishy flavour and a silky texture. I had never tasted anything like it. As my mouth and teeth were stained black, I insisted The Slow Chef share the dish so I didn’t look like the only side-show act in the room. He was also impressed. So much so, we have remembered the dish to this day.
Last night, being a Saturday and having nothing left in the fridge, The Slow Chef perused the pantry and decided to make Linguine Nero con Gamberi or Squid ink pasta with prawns.
The critics (kids) were pretty harsh, rating the dish a 6 (from 14 year old son who has decided he doesn’t like prawns) and 8 (from Holly who found the black pasta quite startling). I also rated the dish an 8 but that was due to the prawns (purchased from Woolworths by now 17 year old Hannah) being gritty. Rather than drive to the shops especially to purchase prawns, Nick phoned through his order to Hannah, who was out and about with friends. She assumed the Fresh Food People would have fresh prawns behind their deli counter. They may have been fresh when they were caught a while ago, but they hadn’t been rinsed, so despite The Slow Chef peeling off all signs of shell, they were still a bit crunchy in the dish. Next time we will buy the prawns from Noosa Seafood Market where we are always happy with the produce.
Besides the slightly gritty prawns, the dish was fantastic – tonnes of garlic and olive oil, basil and parsley, and one finely chopped tomato. The addition of a chilli or two would also have enhanced the flavour.
After an amazing meal, we settled back on the couch to watch a movie. It was the perfect Saturday night in.