Inspired by a pasta dish that Alex enjoyed years ago at Small Talk Cafe in Legazpi City, laing spaghetti combines pasta with a coconut milk based vegetable stew.
What is laing? For those of who who have never experienced this humble dish from the Bicol region, laing is a stew of dried taro leaves and coconut milk. It is sometimes cooked with pork but, more often, with shrimps. We like to combine meat with shrimp.
Why is laing a good partner for pasta? You may not have articulated it yet but I am quite sure that, somewhere at the back of your mind, you already know that stew and carbs are lovely together. Here at home, leftover meat stew often find its way into a bowl of pasta. If there is too little meat in the stew, or none at all, we like to add bacon.
But this isn’t leftover laing. It was especially cooked to go with the pasta. We’d been meaning to do our home version of Small Talk Cafe’s laing pasta for years but, for some reason, it just kept getting pushed in the background. But now that we’re focusing on modern Filipino recipes, the timing is just right.
Modern Filipino? I don’t want to come up with a strict definition. Suffice to say that we’re serving Filipino dishes in unexpected ways — ways that will make purists swear in anger and frustration. I like provoking them, truth be told. I like slapping them with the truth that cuisine, any cuisine, is always evolving. And insisting that being “authentic” means sticking to ways that food was cooked a century ago is nothing but being stuck in a time warp.
But, enough about purists. I’ve written everything about the subject years ago and I have little to add to that. The recipe…
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 150 grams ground pork with at least 20% fat
- 1 teaspoon dried shrimps (hibe) finely chopped
- 1 shallot or ½ red onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
- 1 half-inch knob ginger peeled and grated
- 1 to 2 bird's eye chilies chopped
- ¼ cup dried taro leaves
- 2 cups coconut milk
- fish sauce (patis) to taste
- ½ cup full cream milk
- cooked spaghetti for three people
- grated Parmesan to garnish
- thinly sliced bird's eye chilies to garnish (optional)
- Heat the cooking oil in a pan the spread the ground pork in the hot oil. Cook over high heat just until no longer pink.
- Lower the heat to medium. Add the dried shrimps, shallot, garlic, ginger and chilies. Saute until the mixture is almost dry.
- Add the taro leaves. Pour in a cup of coconut milk. Drizzle in fish sauce. Bring to a gentle boil, pushing down the taro leaves to submerge in the liquid.
- Cook the laing uncovered over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the coconut milk has been absorbed. Taste. If the taro leaves are still not tender enough, add the rest of the coconut milk. Add more fish sauce, if needed. Continue cooking until the taro leaves are tender and the mixture is quite dry.
- The laing is cooked at this point but very strongly flavored. Add the full cream milk, stirring it in, to make the flavors milder and to thin out the laing so it is easier to toss with the pasta.
- Off the heat, take the cooked spaghetti and add to the laing. Toss until blended.
- Ladle the laing spaghetti into bowls. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and, optionally, sliced bird's eye chilies, before serving.