Thursday, August 2, 2012
Like almost everyone I know, I easily fall into a rut. Doing the same thing over and over, just because...well, there’s never really a reason for a rut, is there?
While I’ve acknowledged cocktail ruts in the past, and sought hard to get out of them, I realized the other day that I was deep in a pasta rut and no one had mentioned it.
Intervention came in the form of a non-meat-eating client on one of my Food Tours. This is not the first time I’ve tweaked the lunch hour of the tour for vegetarians, and it’s actually pretty easy to do so. I usually order up carbonara and/or gricia for the rest of the table, while cacio e pepe stands as a worthy meatless representative of the Roman pasta tradition.
But this particular girl was also lactose intolerant.
While blithely pretending this was ‘no problem’ I quickly scanned a menu I thought I pretty much knew by heart for inspiration. Fearful that I was going to have to break down and order a simple spaghetti al pomodoro, my eyes almost skipped over the word arrabbiata.
I had completely forgotten about Penne all’Arrabbiata. I not only used to order it all the time, but it was a standard at home for the first few years of my marriage.
Arrabbiata translates into angry, since the tomato sauce is made ‘angry’ by the addition of hefty quantities of hot red peppers. It’s one of the simplest and best classic Italian sauces and it had fallen off my radar for one simple reason: kids.
Once Sophie and Emma started eating meals with us, eating what we ate, anything spicy fell by the wayside for about 10 years. And even though they are both pepperoncino-loving adults these days, somehow penne all’arrabiata never made it back into rotation.
So thank you, lovely, lactose intolerant vegetarian food tour client, for reminding me how good this sauce can be. The version you see here is the plate full we had that fateful day at Giggetto’s, and personifies all that is perfect in this dish. Thick, rich tomato sauce made with good quality pelati. The secret, of course, is the quantity of red pepper - enough to bite, but not enough to hurt - which has been gently warmed in olive oil first.
And here’s the thing: the amount of olive oil is key. No, you can’t just use a teaspoon of olive oil for this recipe. You really have to be heavy handed, since not only is the oil the vehicle of transportation for the heat, but it also transforms an otherwise light tomato sauce into something rich, silky and deadly good.
Definitely something you won't forget. (until you do, of course)
1 pound/ 1/2 kilo penne (or other shape, but penne is traditional)
1 jar pelati (peeled Italian tomatoes)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
*It’s always hard to give quantities for red pepper, since they vary so much. Both fresh and dry work well. But let’s say you’ve got ‘medium’ strength crushed red pepper flakes, then I’d say a teaspoon or two would be about right. But play around.
Heat olive oil in a sauce pan, and add red pepper and garlic. Heat gently for a few minutes, but don’t let it brown. Add tomatoes and salt, and cook briskly until the tomatoes break up and the sauce thickens. This should take about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust for both salt and spiciness.
In the meantime, bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook till al dente. Drain and dress with sauce.
Top with parsley.
This pasta is not served with cheese.