Thursday, January 18, 2007

Penne A.O.P.

From The Campagna Table by Mark Strausman

Serves 4

There are a couple of chefs with names not Italian who worked in restaurants for Pino Luongo, and their recipes are usually fabulous. In fact, I haven’t had a miss yet. One of them is Mark Strausman, and the other is Michael Schlow, who wrote It’s About Time, a fantastic cookbook you should check out if you're not familiar with it. A recipe from that book, Crunchy Eggplant with Basil-Marinated Tomatoes is here.

It's always a good idea to have good quality olive oil, canned tomatoes, pasta, and very fresh garlic on hand, as well as cleaned parsley standing in a glass of water (like a bunch of flowers) in your refrigerator. With that this recipe, which you want to have in your repertoire, can be put together very quickly. It's a great dish to make if you come home from the movies and want to make a late-night supper.

Regarding this recipe, Mark Strausman said "A.O.P. stands for aglio (garlic), olio (oil), and pomodoro (tomato) in the sauce. The trick is to slowly heat the garlic and cook it until golden brown. The garlic will give off a nutty, toasted smell that will let you know that it’s correctly cooked. You do have to watch it carefully and stir it often because if the garlic gets too brown, the dish will be bitter." Always remember to sauce pasta lightly. Also note it is not recommended to serve cheese with this sauce.

*I usually put the tomatoes through a food mill for this recipe, which makes it take a little longer, but the smooth tomatoes are what this particular sauce is all about. I have lately been trying different brands of passata, which has all of a sudden been showing up on grocery shelves. While there is a difference of opinion about what real passata is (some people say it's a concentrated sauce of tomatoes cooked with pancetta and pork shoulder), what is now being sold in jars is essentially sieved tomatoes - skinned, seedless, unflavored, uncooked tomato pulp, either slightly chunky or smooth. So I have found the smooth product to work well in this recipe, which keeps it really quick and easy. You should try passata, but do go for the best brand you can find. My Whole Foods usually has a good organic brand from Tuscany.

I plan on "doing the tomatoes" next summer so that I have my own prepared tomatoes, which I will use for this sauce. In a post on that, I first mentioned a fabulous product, Bella Cucina Artful Food's Organic Passata al Pomodoro. Bella Cucina had a stand in the Market at Grand Central, which I discovered one day when I was stopping at Murray's to get some fresh ricotta. But now the stand is gone! These tomatoes are truly wonderful if what you want to make is a smooth sauce without texture, surpassing anything I have found in a jar or a can. I don't know if anyone in New York carries these tomatoes; I'm going to try to find out; otherwise, I guess they would have to be shipped from Atlanta. Bummer.


Salt
1 pound dried penne pasta (Mezzi Rigatoni is good too)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thickly sliced
½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 cup milled or crushed canned Italian plum tomatoes*
2 tablespoons freshly chopped Italian parsley

Cook penne in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. When done, reserve ½ cup of the cooking water.

In a saucier with a lid large enough to hold the pasta later on, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until just barely golden. Add the red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds (you definitely do not want them to burn), then add the tomatoes and salt to taste. Simmer just until the sauce thickens and darkens slightly.

Reserve ½ cup of the cooking water before you drain the pasta in a colander. Add the drained pasta that still has a tiny bit of water clinging to it to the sauce, and mix well (adding a few tablespoons of pasta cooking water if needed) to coat the pasta evenly. Cover, and cook for about 1 minute more. Turn off heat. Season with salt to taste. Add the parsley, and toss until evenly coated. Serve immediately.



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