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18 Jul 2011

Peanuts on your pasta

Aromatic peanut sauce over pasta with lemon melissa and pomegranate molasses

For this month Secret Recipe Club, I got to pick a recipe from Laura's blog "This is how we eat". Faithful to its name, her blog is pretty a straightforward account of family recipes that punctuate daily meals carried out with that touch of inventiveness that can make a little kid eat her veggies.
Going through her articles, I found a few that sounded particular interesting in terms of flavors and news to my repertoire. The one I chose sounds quite American in the essence and a perfect disguise for greens for your kids: peanut noodles.

In her intro, Laura warns us about how her husband found this recipe very peanuty and this was probably what actually drove me to try it.
Few months ago a dear friend from California, Pamela, brought me (in a loaded goodie bag) a jar of Trader Joe's Peanut Butter. It took a little time for me to find the right crave to shake it smooth and slather it over some warmed slices of brioche followed by a generous layer of my red-currant coulis. Oh what a late night treat...
Peanuts as many nuts, acquire a particular lusciousness when eaten full-handed style. They melt down in a rich creamy texture, with delightful roasted aromas that often makes us go back to our childhood.
Burning Nuts

Peanuts is actually a bean originary of South America (Bolivia or Peru). The plant has an awkward way to let the beans pod ripen. Once pollinated, the flower withers and the stem elongates at a pretty high speed burying the pod several inches underground. This habit inspired the botanical name of this plant Arachis Hypogaea, with hypogaea coming from the Greek for "under the earth". Probably also its popular name "groundnut" comes from the same inspirational source since the pods have to be dug out of the earth to be eaten.
Being it a bean, peanut seeds are rich in protein so that they are actually used to alleviate famine.
Historically, peanuts have been very important for the explorations of the Poles. Explorers had need for a highly caloric and proteic food that could be eaten on the spot, often also while walking. Peanut butter was then the perfect candidate.
The first record of peanut butter as we know it, dates back to 1884 when a U.S. patent was issued to Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Montreal, Canada for his machine producing what can nowadays be considered as more a nut paste. The first "peanut butters" where rather raw and bitter in taste, only after George Washington Carver sugar and molasses have been added to it (and other alimentary products) to make it more palatable.

In its origins, peanuts were used by Aztecs and Peruvians as an integral ingredient of their sauces. Simmered with the other ingredients, they were softened and then grinded so to obtain a final product where the roasted peanut flavor was well melded with the others.
For instance, in Peruvian cuisine the various ajis are particularly famous, that is boiled potatoes, chicken or seafood served with a sauce made of blended hot-peppers (aji), peanuts, roasted onions, garlic and oil.
Peanuts are also popular in many South Asian and Indian cuisines, where they are often added as such to, for instance, leafy green dishes (as in salads or curries) to provide a textural contrast to the final preparation.

Aside from their high proteic content, peanuts are quite good for you. They contain a considerable amount of antioxidants compounds and resveratrol (a compound under investigation for its anti-aging properties). Their high content of monounsaturated fats can also be useful in preventing cardiovascular disease. Still, beware of their high caloric intake! 100g (3.5 oz) of peanuts contain 570 kcal.

As inspirations for this dish I looked more at middle-eastern and south-asian traditions using nuts. I needed to bring the inherently sweet connotation that peanut butter has for me, more into the savory world so to be acceptable to serve it with pasta more than meats.
Laura suggests in her post to serve the pasta with plentiful of fresh coriander. This seemed a nice idea to introduce fresh herbal notes to lighten up the sauce. Still, I needed an interesting sour component to alleviate that mouth-gluing experience that peanut butter often has (I think that the same need was at the base of the PB&J sandwiches). Coupling it with a fruity-sour component makes peanut butter far more delectable.
Still life with peanuts

Now, a very traditional and popular Iranian sauce usually served over meat, is based on walnuts and pomegranate molasses; so here we go, pomegranate molasses will have to come into the pasta one way or another. How? Read the recipe and find out.

Aromatic peanut sauce over pasta with lemon melissa and pomegranate molasses

Ingredients (serve 2):
  • 2.5 tbsp roasted peanuts plus more for garnishing
  • 2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp minced shallots
  • 3/4 tsp fish sauce
  • 6-7 drops smocked hot-sauce
  • 2.5 tbsp boiling water

  • 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar/fructose
  • 1/2 tbsp water
  • 1-2 drops of vanilla extract

  • few lemon melissa leaves, cut in chiffonade
  • red bird's eye chili

  • Pasta like fusilli

Warm the oven to 125C/260F and roast the nuts and garlic for 20-25 minutes or until the peanuts will be uniformly roasted and golden brown. Set the peanuts aside in a bowl, rise the oven temperature to 180C/360F and continue roasting the garlic cloves until fragrant and soft to the touch.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and gently cook the shallots until they start to caramelize.
In a spice grinder, put 2.5 tablespoons of peanuts with the shallots and process until they form a butter; it doesn't need to be perfectly smooth at the moment. Add the fish sauce, the smocked hot-sauce, the garlic cloves and process until well combined.
Start incorporating the boiling water, 1-2 teaspoons at a time; what we are looking for is a smooth creamy golden brown sauce. If the sauce separate try adding 1 teaspoon of industrial peanut butter.
Taste and season with more fish sauce or hot-sauce if needed.
Keep the sauce warm.

For the pomegranate molasses sauce, combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and reduce until syrupy.

Mix the sauce with the pasta, loosening it with a bit of cooking water if needed. Add the chiffonade of lemon melissa and plate. Before serving drip some pomegranate molasses on top of the pasta along with some more peanuts and thai chili to taste.

Aromatic peanut sauce over pasta (HDR version)


  1. Love peanuts and with pasta a double bonus treat! Posted a peanut recipe today for SRC :) Glad to be with you in SRC.

  2. Mmhm, this looks so good. I love peanut sauces and pasta and the pomegranate syrup seems...interesting but good good! :)

  3. I haven't had much luck with peanut sauces but this one looks really terrific!

  4. Peanuts and pasta are really some kind of fabulous!
    So fun to be in the Secret Recipe Club with you. This looks amazing :)

  5. This sounds absolutely amazing! I enjoyed reading all the background information you gave.

  6. You've got a really interesting mix of flavours in this pasta. Your whole post makes me want to go out and make some peanut recipes. I love peanuts in South-east Asian dishes.

  7. An interesting mix of flavors that sound wonderful. I enjoyed your summary of the background research.

  8. The dish looks awesome and I have to admit the peanuts would probably drive me to it too... :)

  9. This dish sounds amazing.

    If you haven't already, I'd love for you to check out my SRC recipe this month: Holy Guacamole.

    Cook Lisa Cook

  10. This sounds and look really delicious. I would love a bowl of this pasta for dinner tonight. Yummy! Great Secret Recipe Club selection.

  11. This looks fabulous. Nice work on the Secret Recipe Club. Isn't it fun. I love finding new blogs and reading through them.

  12. Your photos are stunning, and the background on your blog really makes them pop! I'm so glad the SRC brought me here!
    Love the info you have about peanuts, most of it I had never heard, and the dish is one I'm eager to try. Nicely done!

  13. What a great recipe! This pasta dish looks incredible and I love the addition of the peanuts! :) New follower!

  14. Wow, totally out of my league but sounds amazing!

  15. Looks an sounds amazing Al! I've featured you on SRC today :)

  16. that looks like an awesome sauce.