(CNN) — Pasta comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes and sauces. But the first step in cooking pasta is usually a simple, tried-and-true process: Drop the main ingredient into a pot of salted boiling water.
Spaghetti all’assassina, or assassin’s pasta, however, is about to make you question everything you know about pasta.
When Italian chef Celso Laforgia dropped raw pasta into a pan with oil and aromatics, but not a drop of water, Stanley Tucci was shocked.
The trick is to burn the pasta enough so that it’s crispy, caramelized and a little charred, but not so much that it’s bitter.
“When it crackles, you know it’s over,” Laforgia said. “Pasta speaks to you.”
Spaghetti with assassina got its name because the first person who tried the dish called the chef a killer because it was so spicy, according to Laforgia.
“Celso’s cooking method goes against everything I know about cooking pasta,” Tucci said. He joked during his visit that the dish reflects its people: fiery, uncompromising and rule-breaking.
The dish is simple, but the technique takes years to master. Laforgia produces 10 versions of the assassinincluding one replacing the tomato with creamed broccoli rabe and topping it with creamy stracciatella, a buffalo milk cheese from Puglia.
Spaghetti with assassina has a cult following in Bari, where he was born in the 1970s.
Tucci (centre) is surprised to see chef Celso Laforgia (left), of Urban Bistrot in Bari, putting raw spaghetti in the pan – pasta is almost never cooked this way.
Spaghetti with Assassina
This spicy dish offers explosive heat. Chef Laforgia suggests at least 16 grams (or 3 tablespoons) of crushed red pepper flakes to balance out the flavors, but you can adjust the heat level to your liking.
Makes 4 servings
150 milliliters | ⅔ cup olive oil
3 whole garlic cloves, peeled
16 grams | 3 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste (1 to 5 tablespoons)
Table salt to taste
400 grams | 1 pound dry spaghetti
150 grams | ⅔ cup tomato puree
pinch of sugar
1. In a large sauté pan, add olive oil, garlic cloves and red pepper flakes.
In another saucepan, boil about 4 liters (17 cups) of salted water.
The two things you need for the dish are a strong fire and a large pot that will fit the spaghetti.
2. In the first skillet, brown the garlic over high heat for about 30 seconds then add the raw spaghetti. Grill the pasta until it has reached a light brown color, then pour and spread the tomato puree all over the pan with a wooden spoon. Add a pinch of sugar to correct the acidity of the tomato purée. When the spaghetti begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, flip it upside down using a heatproof spatula.
3. Pour a medium ladle of hot salted water into the pot with the spaghetti and keep stirring. As soon as the water begins to simmer, let it stand. When you hear the sauce sizzle, flip the spaghetti stuck to the bottom of the pan upside down with the spatula.
The trick to the dish is to burn it enough to make it crispy, but not to burn it so much that it’s bitter.
4. Gently flip the spaghetti, letting it stick a little to the bottom of the pan. When the spaghetti starts to stick to the bottom, flip it over with a spatula to bring it up. Pour in another ladleful of water and continue, as if you were preparing risotto, until the pasta begins to crackle, 8 to 9 minutes.
5. When the pasta is ready, serve immediately from pan to plate.
When the pasta makes a crackling noise, you know it’s ready.
This recipe is courtesy of Chef Celso Laforgia of Urban Bistrot in Bari, Italy.