I came back from my trip to Rome last September with a case full of products from Eataly. A bag of squid ink pasta was one of them and I put together this dish to try and hold onto memories of that trip as the dark nights of autumn closed in.
The last time I ate a dish with squid ink was on a trip to Montenegro, too many years ago now to put a number to. I had been working in Bosnia. I drove with a friend from the project I was working on to the Croatian coast for a few days holiday. After a week in Split, Hvar Island and Dubrovnik, we crossed the border into Montenegro. It was in the years still early post-war. Tourists were just beginning to return to the region. It was easy to turn up to a city and easily find a ‘sobe’ or room by word of mouth. Maybe this is still the case. Not having to book anywhere in advance turned our road trip into a spontaneous, make-decisions-as-and-when we felt like it, no itinerary to cleave to holiday that when I think or talk about it, I slip back into a feeling of ease.
We crossed into Montenegro at Karasovići and I continued to drive. It took barely an afternoon to drive from Dubrovnik to Ulcinj, one of the oldest settlements on the Adriatic coast, just before you hit the Albanian border, where we eventually stopped. It is a couple of hours, though, where you need to pay attention to everything around you. The coastline is stunning. The turquoise, Adriatic Sea laps at the coves and bays, The Orjen and Lovćen Mountains fall into the fjord-like Bay of Kotor and medieval towns are bathed in sunlight.
We arrived in Ulcinj in time for an early dinner and after finding rooms ventured out to find a place to eat. It didn’t take long to find a little terrace on the edge of the sea. My squid ink risotto tasted of the sea. I can still taste its briny, oozing richness, still feel the gentle breeze from the sea and the warmth of the sun and submerge into that feeling of utter relaxation, the kind you get from a really good holiday.
Making this pasta dish, memories of both Rome and Montenegro came to the surface in waves. And not just memories, my body physically relaxed as I chopped and blitzed ingredients, watched boiling pots and dished up. It’s important, especially during these times when we are under lockdown during a global pandemic, to remember magical experiences. To re-experience them. Return to a time when we didn’t have a care in the world. And to remember that at some point in the future, we might have those experiences again.
This is more of an assemblage than a recipe. You could use regular basil pesto, but I think the pepperiness of the rocket tempers the salty salmon and the briny pasta and both are cut by the earthy acidity of the sundried tomatoes.
INGREDIENTS 250g dried squid ink pasta
50g sundried tomatoes
100g smoked salmon
For the pesto
1 bag rocket
1 clove garlic
Juice of ½ lemon
50g grated parmesan
Olive oil – you can add a couple of tablespoons, or more if you like an oily pesto
A few leaves of basil to garnish
Salt and pepper to season
Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet.
While the pasta is boiling, place the ingredients for the rocket pesto into a food processor and blitz to a semi-smooth texture.
Chop the sundried tomatoes and tear the salmon into bite sized pieces.
When the pasta is cooked, drain, retaining the cooking water.
Place the pasta into a wide pan. Add the salmon, sun dried tomatoes and a big spoonful of the pesto and a couple of spoonfuls of the pasta water. Stir to mix the ingredients. Season to taste
Plate into two bowls and garnish with chopped basil and a drizzle of olive oil