Fideos are wafer-thin string noodles that, along with capers, were brought over to Mexico by the Spanish from Sicily, an island they also occupied for a few hundred years. The result was sopa seca (literally meaning dry soup), a fantastically flavoured pasta dish from Veracruz, in which the noodles are sauteed until brown, then simmered in a rich tomato sauce spiked with smoky chipotle relish, plus fresh crab meat, a scattering of capers and fresh lime.
I like to serve this as a starter, as it is done in Mexico (as a soup course), but it also makes a great weeknight dinner.
Prep 10 min
Cook 40 min
400g vermicelli or angel-hair pasta
100ml olive, vegetable or rapeseed oil
4 baby shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1-2 green chillies, finely chopped
7-8 ripe plum tomatoes, halved
A few pinches of allspice
2 bay leaves
3-4 tbsp baby capers
Salt and pepper
1 pinch sugar
500ml fish or vegetable stock
225g dressed crab (I like Devon or Dorset crab)
Soured cream, to serve
1 handful chopped coriander, to serve
For the salsa
2 garlic cloves
2-3 tsp demerara sugar, to taste
2-3 heaped tbsp chipotles en adobo
2 tsp fish sauce
In a heavy–based frying pan or paella dish, fry the pasta in the oil for a few minutes, stirring from time to time, until it turns a rich golden colour. Remove with a slotted spoon, and drain on a plate lined with kitchen towel.
Turn down the heat to medium and sweat the shallots and chillies until they are translucent. While they are cooking, coarsely grate the tomatoes, discarding the skin (or blitz them in a food processor). Add the tomatoes, allspice, bay and half the capers, then season with salt, pepper and a good pinch of sugar. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, to concentrate the flavours into a lovely rich sauce.
To make the salsa, bash the garlic with the sugar and a pinch of salt until you have a paste. Work in the chipotles, followed by the zest and juice of one lime. Add the fish sauce a teaspoon at a time, then check the seasoning – the salsa should be spicy, savoury, slightly sweet and sour, so add more sugar, lime or salt to balance the flavours.
Fifteen minutes before you want to eat, pour the stock into the tomato sauce and bring to simmering point. Stir in the noodles and all but a sprinkle of the remaining capers, then simmer gently until the liquid is absorbed and the noodles are tender.
Serve the pasta in deep bowls topped with the crab, a generous spoonful of soured cream and a dollop of the salsa. Scatter with coriander and the remaining capers, and offer a saucer of lime wedges at the table.
Turn this into a veggie dish by omitting the crab and fish sauce – it looks incredible served with a ricotta-stuffed courgette flower on top.