KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 1 – It’s the first of January again. A brand new year, a blank canvas on which to sketch a fresh beginning. Three hundred and sixty-five days waiting for us to fill and fulfil their promise.
Time, then, for a sweet start to 2022.
I’m not thinking about desserts, however. Certainly not bread, not yet. (I’ve overdosed on baked goods in 2021, that’s for sure.)
No, it’s still something savoury I long for. A main dish, rather than a side. Something we can enjoy with our family and friends or enjoy alone. (If there’s anything the past two years of the pandemic have taught us, it’s that staying safe is worth celebrating; being solitary doesn’t equal solitude.)
New Year always reminds me of noodles. Perhaps it’s the longevity noodles we have during the Lunar New Year or on our birthdays. Either way, it’s a symbol of a long life; hopefully one that is healthy and nice.
Therefore noodles by themselves aren’t enough. Let our lives be long and let them be sweet, full of love and kindness. Brimming with joy.
A new year also means another batch of resolutions, typically to be healthier – to hit the gym and to eat clean. Less sugar, then.
There are other ways to add sweetness to your food – and your life.
Here, I’ve decided on a bolognese or ragù base. To sweeten the meat-and-tomato sauce, instead of adding sugar or cloying honey, how about some ripe mangoes and roasted garlic? The first offers a fruity sweetness; the latter a deeper, more caramelised flavour.
Cooked down with the minced meat and chopped tomatoes, it will look just like any other ragù. Till you take your first bite, that is.
A startled look, your eyes widening, then you smile, delighted. A most pleasant surprise.
You take a second bite, then another. Before you know it, you have polished your plate. Could you have another plate, you wonder.
That’s the sweetest life; when you find yourself asking for seconds. You know it will be a pretty good year, when it’s Day One and already you are asking for more.
NEW YEAR’S NOODLES WITH MANGO & ROASTED GARLIC
Though I’m calling these New Year’s noodles, I have used pasta. Partly for a change – the mouthfeel of pasta, its inherent al dente nature when cooked correctly, suggest firmer footing in the coming months – and partly because dry pasta was what I had in the pantry.
If the legend of Marco Polo has any truth to it, the Italians got their pasta from the adventurer’s return with Chinese noodles from his journey to the Far East anyway. So, there’s some tradition here, though exactly what I couldn’t speak to, I’m sure.
Aside from the noodles or pasta, other ingredients are there for a reason: to add sweetness to this long, happy life.
Minced meat (a mix of pork and beef offers the right balance of flavour and fat; lamb will be wonderful too) and tomatoes help ground the sauce and the noodles. A few cubes of Chinese sausage contribute a nice chew to the sauce.
The mangoes and the roasted garlic for the unexpected notes of sweetness, of course, but also other aromatics such as shallots and ginger give the sauce more depth. A tinge of fish sauce ensures a hit of umami; balsamic vinegar or its glaze for some acidity.
A final grating of cheese before serving and it’s a New Year’s meal worth celebrating, to enjoy with loved ones or on your own.
100 g minced meat (e.g. beef, pork, lamb or a mix)
6-12 cloves roasted garlic, whole
Half a ripe mango, cut into chunks
6-8 fresh cherry tomatoes tomatoes, halved
1 can tomatoes
Half a Chinese sausage, cut into small cubes
1 tablespoon of minced ginger
1 tablespoon of fried shallots
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar or balsamic vinegar glaze
1 litre water
200 g dried long pasta (e.g. tagliatelle or pappardelle)
Salt and black pepper
Parmesan cheese, grated as garnishing
Warm some olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Sauté the minced meat first till just cooked then remove from the pan and set aside. (We will add it back to the pan later, once the sauce is ready, to prevent overcooking the meat.)
There is no need to sauté the roasted garlic as it’s already cooked. (To roast your own garlic, simply preheat your oven to 180°C. Prepare a tray of whole bulbs of garlic – cutting their tops off so the cloves are exposed and rub with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Place tray into oven and bake for about 45-60 minutes till garlic is soft. Once cooled, you can store these in the freezer for a few months.)
Add the roasted garlic, chunks of mango, fresh and canned tomatoes, as well as the cubed Chinese sausage to the pan; there should still be enough leftover oil and drippings from the minced meat that you don’t have to add more oil.
Use your spatula to break down the mango and tomatoes, leaving some as chunks for a textural contrast. Simmer till everything has reduced to more of a thick sauce.
Season with the minced ginger, fried shallots, fish sauce and balsamic vinegar. Return the meat to the pan to warm it up in the sauce, if using. Remove from heat and set aside with a lid to cover the pan.
Using a large pot, bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, add a generous amount of salt then the dried pasta. Cook according to package instructions or until al dente.
Drain the cooked pasta, reserving about a cup of the cooked pasta water. Toss your cooked pasta in the sauce. Use a little reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce to your liking. Taste and season again with more salt and black pepper if necessary.
Dish onto plates. Grate fresh Parmesan cheese over the pasta and serve immediately.
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