Nothing is as Italian as pasta, or is it? Its origins remain unclear and many other cultures, most notably the Chinese, have similar foodstuffs in their traditional repertoire. Did, as the legend says, Marco Polo first bring pasta back to Italy from China in the 12th century? This seems unlikely since Marco Polo was from Venice, in north-eastern Italy and pasta seems to have its origins in the south. Also, a reference to pasta in Sicily has been found dating to 1154, exactly 100 years before Polo was born. Some authors have even linked an ancient Roman dish called lagana to modern lasagne al forno so pasta could have been present on the Italian peninsula a lot longer than we think.
Whatever the truth, there are lots of similarities between the way that pasta is served in Italy and in China. A Chinese friend of mine used to refer to tortellini as ‘those Italian wontons’. And it is indeed interesting that wonton soup is a popular dish while tortellini are traditionally served in brodo, a clear soup, at Christmas and New Year.
It was actually Chinese food which inspired me to develop this dish. I used to travel extensively in Hong Kong and mainland China for work, and managed to eat a huge amount of dim sum, always ordering the king prawn dumplings—entire prawns enclosed in a sticky translucent-white pasta. This gave me the idea to enclose a king prawn inside a piece of egg pasta. The result was truly stunning: the prawn retains a little crunch within its pasta bathrobe. I decided to bathe them in an aglio, olio, peperoncino (garlic, olive oil, and chili flake) sauce with added lemon juce for an Italian taste with an oriental zing.
This dish requires you to make your own fresh pasta. I am preparing a post on how to do this soon but in the meantime why don’t you watch this entertaining YouTube video below from top chef Gennaro Contaldo.
Here are some pics of me putting the pasta together.
Tempting as it may seem, to be truly Italian, don’t serve this dish with grated parmesan cheese. It’s a rule of Italian cuisine that shellfish and parmesan don’t mix. (But to quote Julia Child, in your own home, ‘who’s to see?’) Buon appetito!
Mezzelune ai gamberoni
Preparation time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 10 mins
Total time: 30 mins
For the mezzelune:
200g (7 ounces) fresh pasta dough
20 king prawns, peeled
For the sauce:
100 ml (1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1 lemon (juice)
1. Roll the pasta out into thin sheets using a pasta machine (setting 6).
2. Cut out 20 rounds of 40mm (1 1/2 inch) diameter using a pastry cutter. The size will vary depending on the size of the prawns but you need to be able to fold the pasta round the prawns and close them up completely.
3. Wet the edge of each round of pasta with water.
4. Place a king prawn on each round.
5. Fold the pasta in half so that the prawn is covered and pinch the edges together to seal.
6. Lay on a baking tray covered with a tea towel to dry for at least 30 mins.
7. Put the olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the garlic and chili flakes and cook gently until the garlic is soft, about 5 mins. Add the lemon juice and stir.
8. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and then add the mezzelune and cook for 4 minutes.
9. Drain the mezzelune and place in bowls.
10. Pour the sauce over the top and serve immediately.