Getting Fresh, With Prawns

Pasta with seafood is a universal favourite, and so it should be. The trick is to keep it simple. No need for splashes of all different types of shellfish and/or fish. Go with something strong. And stick to it.

There’s an argument to suggest that fresh prawns need no more than a barbecue to turn them into a decent feed. But we’re not always happy with the merest of basics, no matter how delicious those basics might be. Which is probably why we get all dressed up when we go to the theatre, but get into jeans for the movies. Horses for courses. But dressing up is also knowing when to stop. For me, prawns are at their best when just cooked, piled onto well-buttered, crusty bread, sprinkled with lemon juice, black pepper and freshly snipped basil leaves, and somehow worked, elegantly, into the eating department.

The same applies when you match prawns with pasta. The key here though, is when you’re swapping great bread for pasta, you must retain that all-important adjective. Great, when referring to pasta, means fresh. Just fresh.

Fresh pasta, yours is best, bought is next. When buying fresh pasta, like everything else in this world, choose your supplier wisely. Every city has its specialist makers, people making the best pasta they can within the constraints of the commercial world. If you’re making it yourself, make enough pasta for four people, or forty-four if you feel like it. Just let any excess dry, and use it whenever you need it. You won’t need that much fresh pasta for this. It’s really a prawn dish, with pasta. If you’re going for dried pasta, invest in the more expensive, artisan product that is now more readily available Down Under. Might seem an indulgence to pay $7-$8 a kilo for dried pasta. It’s not. The flavour is almost as spectacular as your own, and there is no labour involved.

fresh pasta (if using dried, allow 30 g per person)

a little olive oil

1 clove garlic, chopped finely

400 g prawns, peeled, de-veined and sliced in half lengthways

100 g best butter, softened and sliced into several pieces

zest of 1 lemon

juice of 1 lemon

small bunch of basil, leaves only


black pepper


Fresh pasta takes not much more than a minute to cook, so get the rest of the show on the road early. Dried pasta? Go by the packet.


Heat a little olive oil in a pan, and toss in the chopped garlic and cook for a minute or so, pretty much to season the pan with garlic. Then add the prawns, swirl them around, toss them, or turn them with a wooden spoon, depending on your dexterity. Shelled, sliced prawns take between 30 seconds and 45 seconds to cook, depending on their size. Keep them just underdone – there is more cooking heat to be added from the pasta.


Off the heat, toss in the butter, the zest and the juice, and stir about. You want the butter to just melt, as it would when hot prawns touch cold butter on a slice of bread.


Add the cooked pasta, the basil, a little salt and plenty of black pepper. Serve in moderate-sized portions. This is an exultation of great (and expensive) flavours, not a football club barbecue.


  • Swap tarragon for basil and you’ve got something just as marvellous, but with a completely different flavour.
  • Leave out most of the herbs (always leave a few for a sparkling surprise in the middle of your mouthful) and turn the pepper mill for ever and a day.
  • For garlic lovers, and those brought up on garlic prawns, triple, quadruple, and more the garlic and give it a good sizzle before you add the prawns. You’ll know whether the garlic is done just right if somebody comes into the house and says: ‘Cor, what’s with the garlic?’
  • Whatever you do here applies just as well for scampi, mussels, scallops, crayfish, etc.

WINE: Prawns and a good rhine riesling make a lovely match, especially when the riesling is young and fresh.