Saucy numbers: Mark Hix's pasta masterclass

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In the second part of his pasta masterclass, Mark Hix offers inspiration with unusual combinations

Last week I gave you recipes for some of the better-known pasta dishes, so this week we're going to go a little off-piste with some less well-known concoctions. Pasta is generally a fairly cheap meal, but occasionally you can make it more special by using less conventional ingredients. Different sauces suit different types of pasta – tubes are good for holding creamy sauces while long pasta is the perfect partner for rich, meaty Tuscan sauces.

Cooking the pasta accurately is crucial, and so is the way it is finished in the pan just before serving. Pasta should not be left too long in the colander because it needs to begin absorbing the oil, butter or sauce soon after being drained to bring the flavours together. Finishing off a pasta dish is a question of instinct and experience; you can add a little more oil, butter or some of the pasta's cooking water (or all three) to give the sauce the correct coating consistency.

Sagnarelle with chicken livers and wild garlic

Serves 4

I've used a pasta here that is a bit like a chopped-up pappardelle. It's easy to eat and soaks up the rich sauce well. Chicken livers make a great base for a pasta sauce – they can be chopped as finely or as coarsely as you wish and here I've added wild garlic to give the pasta that seasonal touch. Wild garlic works perfectly in all sorts of pasta dishes as it naturally wilts into the sauce and you could even just use wild garlic, olive oil and butter to make a really simple and tasty pasta sauce.

4 servings of sagnarelle (or pappardelle)
4 small shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
300-350g chicken livers, cleaned and chopped into small pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4tbsp extra virgin olive oil
100ml marsala
100ml chicken stock
60g butter

A handful of wild garlic leaves, washed, dried and torn in half

Cook the sagnarelle in boiling salted water according to the manufacturer's instructions. While the pasta is cooking make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy frying pan and gently cook the shallots and garlic without colouring them. Turn up the heat, season and add the livers and fry on a high heat, stirring every so often until they begin to colour. Add the marsala and stock and cook on a high heat until it reduces by about half, then add the wild garlic and butter and continue cooking for a couple of minutes until the garlic leaves have wilted and the sauce thickened. Drain the sagnarelle then mix half the sauce with it, re-season and transfer to warmed plates, then spoon over the rest of the sauce.

Trofie with prawns, chilli and broccoli

Serves 4

Leafy Italian broccoli, or broccoletti, lends itself to pasta dishes as the delicate stalks and leaves just wilt into the dish. I've also used some baby plum tomatoes in this dish that I semi-dried and preserved in olive oil and herbs last summer, but you could just as easily use sun-blushed tomatoes (available from supermarket deli counters or Merchant Gourmet) simply cut up. I've also based the sauce on an infused oil which I made from the prawn shells. If you buy head- and shell-on prawns for this dish you can make about half a litre or so of well-flavoured oil that you can keep in the fridge for drizzling on fish or in pasta dishes like this.

Try to buy fresh prawns if possible. Waitrose sell great fresh prawns from the Red Sea which have a far superior flavour to most frozen prawns.

4 servings of trofie
24 or so medium-sized raw prawns, shelled (reserve the shells)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
6 or so tbsp of shellfish oil (see below) or olive oil
8 heads of broccoletti or sprouting broccoli, trimmed and cooked
8 pieces of quartered sun-blushed tomatoes
60g butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the trofie in boiling salted water according to the manufacturer's cooking instructions. Meanwhile heat the shellfish oil in a pan, season and fry the prawns with the garlic and chilli flakes for a couple of minutes until the prawns are just cooked, add the broccoli and tomatoes and butter and toss together with the pasta. Re-season and add a little water or more oil if necessary.

Shellfish oil

Makes half a litre

200-300g prawn or lobster shells
500ml olive oil
1 clove of garlic, peeled and halved
1tsp fennel seeds
12 black peppercorns
A couple of sprigs of thyme

Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a simmer and keep on a very low heat for 10 minutes then remove from the heat and leave to infuse overnight. The next day strain through muslin or a fine-meshed sieve and store in a sterilised bottle or jar in the fridge.

Pappardelle with rabbit and green olives

Serves 4

4 servings of pappardelle or similar
The front and back legs of a rabbit, chopped
1 small onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
1tbsp olive oil
2tsp chopped rosemary
A couple of good knobs of butter
1tbsp flour
2tsp tomato purée
1 glass of red wine
200g chopped tomatoes
1litre chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
16-20 large green olives, stoned

Heat the olive oil in a heavy based saucepan and fry the rabbit, onion, garlic, carrot and celery for 3-4 minutes until lightly coloured. Add the rosemary and butter, then stir in the flour and tomato purée. Gradually add the red wine, tomatoes and chicken stock, season and simmer gently for an hour, or until the rabbit is tender and the sauce thickened. Add a little water during cooking if the sauce is getting too thick. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water, mix the pasta with half of the sauce and re-season if necessary then transfer to warmed serving plates. Add the olives to the rest of the sauce, re-heat; spoon over the pasta.

Sardinian couscous with cuttlefish

Serves 4

Sardinian couscous, or fregola, is an ancient type of semolina pasta that is particularly good in a salad or served hot with seafood. This unusual dish was typically served in fishing villages. Cuttlefish ink is pretty easy to come by these days, but order it in advance from your fishmonger to be on the safe side. If you can't find cuttlefish, squid will do a similar job.

200g fregola or Sardinian couscous
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2-3 tbsp olive oil
600g cuttlefish, cleaned weight
6 sachets of cuttlefish ink (30g)
120ml white wine
250ml fish stock
60g butter

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5.

Place the couscous into a small oven-proof dish, season and just cover with boiling water. Cover with foil and place in the oven for 15 minutes, remove and stir. Return to the oven topping up with a little water every so often until the grains have absorbed the water and swelled up; this will take about 30-40 minutes. Then stir in a tablespoon or so of olive oil and keep warm.

Meanwhile, cut the cuttlefish into 2-3cm pieces and the tentacles into similar-sized pieces. Heat the rest of the olive oil in a wide saucepan. Gently cook the onion and garlic for a couple of minutes, then add the cuttlefish, season and continue cooking on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes stirring every so often. Add the cuttlefish ink, squeezing as much as you can from the sachets, then add the wine and fish stock. Simmer gently for about 20-30 minutes, or until the cuttlefish is tender and the sauce has reduced and thickened. Cut the butter into small pieces, add and continue to simmer until the sauce has quite a thick coating consistency.

To serve, spoon the couscous on to warmed serving plates or bowls and spoon the cuttlefish and sauce on top.

Click here to see Mark Hix's exclusive cookery videos

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