I might well have been an impressionable and easily pleased 15 year old the first time I ate this, but if it really wasn't as good as I remember, would I still be hankering after it, ever so often, even decades later?

The version I had all those years ago had been cooked by the mother of a classmate for a farewell party at year's end. My classmate had brought it to school in one of those charmingly unchic, huge Tupperware boxes that are purpotedly so air and water tight, I think if they had ever manufactured one large enough to accomodate a human, you would've been able to survive a nuclear holocaust in it, if you hadn't already succumbed to suffocation.

It didn't look like much, this chilli reddened melange of greasy macaroni, shrimp and chicken but oh, when a forkful met my tongue! I was in pasta heaven. Unfortunately, the other's in the party apparently knew far better and faster than I, that this was ambrosia, not just macaroni and by the time I got back to the box, there was nothing in it but tiny specks of oil slicked garlic.

This is what my boys ask for when I tell them I'm out of ideas for dinner or lunch, as I did yesterday. Eyes light up at the mention of it. Few things are easier or faster. Smaller macaroni cook more quickly and ready peeled shrimp will save you the bother of ripping them bare; I don't like leaving even the tails on, in this case, and you'd be surprised how long it takes to peel slippery, whiskery shrimp.

You could substitute chicken with beef and shrimp with squid, shelled clams or scallops. I really do think that this is one dish where you don't want anything standing between you and your pasta, so, no shells of any kind to impede the pleasure of mouth meeting macaroni.

Living in a house full of teenaged and preteen boys can really skew your portioning skills. I think ordinarily, this amount of pasta would serve 4 to 5 adults comfortably. I had to cook another batch halfway through dinner because my 3 boys were fighting over seconds even after hefty first servings. Or, maybe this stuff is just pure catnip to 15 year olds...

Prep 15 mins      Cook 20 mins      Serves 4


500 g (about half pound) elbow macaroni or your favourite short pasta
6 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
3 Tbsp prepared pure chilli paste (adjust to taste but I recommend 3 Tbsp)
2 large chicken breast halves, skinned, and thinly sliced across the grain
350 g peeled, uncooked shrimp or prawns (10 - 12 ozs) peeled and deveined or 500 g (half pound) unpeeled shrimp
1 1/2 - 2 level tsps sea salt (or to taste)
Fresh coriander leaves (cilantro) to garnish


Bring a deep pot of water to boil and cook pasta according to package instructions. When done, drain thoroughly and set aside.

While pasta cooks, heat 3 tablespoons light vegetable oil and when moderately hot, add garlic and stir, taking care that it doesn't burn. When garlic is golden, add the chilli paste and stir until oil begins to seep out from the chilli paste.

Add the chicken and turn up the heat. Stir for a few seconds so slices don't clump together then add the shrimp. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly.

When chicken and shrimp are just cooked through (chicken turns a creamy white and shrimps turn pink) add the drained pasta and toss everything together. Season to taste with salt and stir everything thoroughly, until pasta is well heated through.

Dish out and serve garnished with cilantro and a squeeze of lemon or lime if you like.

Note on Chilli Paste: You can buy pure chilli paste from most Asian grocers or in the Asian foods section of most supermarkets. It isn't a composite sauce or paste like Sriracha or sambal oelek, but simply, uncooked, pulverised, reconstituted dried hot chillies, usually with a little salt and white vinegar added to extend its shelf life. It's usually quite hot, so use your discretion when cooking with it. You can easily make your own by soaking dried chillies just long enough to soften them. Slit them open and discard the seeds and pith. Cut up roughly and process to a smooth paste with a little water, in a blender or pestle and mortar. Stir in a little salt and vinegar and refrigerate in a covered container. Use within a week. This paste will last longer if you fry it in a generous amount of oil until the chilli paste separates from the oil. The oil will help preserve it so don't discard. You will also have the added benefit of really punchy chilli oil with which you can dress cooked pasta or Asian noodles, add to salad dressings or garnish foods with a little more flavour and flair.