Thursday, March 20, 2008

Festa Italiana: Pasta Arrabiata with Arugula

Now despite its name, this is not "Arab pasta" or any such thing - it is "angry" pasta. Generally prepared with penne, or another pasta that will help the eater pick up the sauce. It happens to be one of my favorite kinds of pasta sauce because it can be prepared appropriately for all seasons, it's cheap, and it's delicious. I picked up this recipe from Culinary in the Desert, and it is a wonderful balance of flavors for a winter-time version of this recipe. There is a touch of balsamic vinegar added just before the tomatoes that gives it just a little more body which is great for a cold night.

Now, most of you are probably wondering what horrendous changes I made in a "creative" effort to improve the dish. That is a fair thought, but since Joe had done such a wonderful job balancing the flavors of the dish already, I really didn't feel the need to do much of anything to it. To be fair, I did make one small change. Remember those Jamaican Peppers? Well, they found a wonderful home in this dish, along with some cayenne pepper, and extra red-pepper flakes. The additional spicing worked very well for us. The three different kinds of hot pepper actually really changed the dish for the better since it gave the spicy flavor layers and complexity. You could taste the different points on the palate where the flavor of the different peppers were coming out. Very nice.

The arugula (another of Joe's insights) were a very nice addition - it added a change of color, texture, and flavor. I over-cooked them slightly, which was unfortunate, but certainly did not ruin their effect. The noodles were not the traditional penne, but were instead a noodle called Cannolicchi (photo taken from The Los Angeles Times - click on the link to see the entire article). I had never had this kind of pasta before, but they were a really great pairing with the arrabiata sauce. Their thick turns got stuffed with the sauce, yum....

Overall, this recipe was fantastic. We both had it again for lunch the next day, and it was still spicy enough to be interesting (which so rarely happens with leftovers). The flavors were more blended, which is unfortunate, but how much can you ask out of a pasta that takes 20 minutes to cook! We've decided to add this recipe to the "Our all time Favorites" category and bring it as our contribution to the Festa Italiana Event hosted by Finding la Dolce Vita and Proud Italian Cook.

I will reproduce the recipe here for convenience, but the credit should be direct to Joe, over at Culinary in the Desert.

16 ounces whole wheat penne pasta [or anything else, like Cannolicchi]
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
28 ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 cup fresh grated pecorino-romano cheese
4 cups arugula, coarsely chopped
[I would also add 1 or 2 fresh hot peppers (depending on their intensity), an extra dash of crushed red pepper and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper. This sounds like a lot, but the tomato sauce and cheese will really damp the spice so being a little over the top is called for.]

In a large pot of boiling salted water, stir in pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve a ladeleful of cooking water then drain the pasta well.

As the pasta cooks, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and crushed red pepper [here is where one can also add a jamaican hot pepper - or any other pepper of choice] - cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the vinegar. Add the tomatoes and stir to combine - season to taste with salt and black pepper. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes [here I would add the cayenne].

Add the cooked pasta and reserved cooking water to the skillet and toss mixture together for about 1 minute. Add the cheese and arugula - toss well and cook for about 1 minute.

(And you thought I was kidding about it taking 20 minutes!)


Jen said...

I love arrabiata sauce but I've never made it at home before... I'll definitely have to give this recipe a try on our next pasta night.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful addition to our festa table! Thanks for joining us :)

Proud Italian Cook said...

I love a good spicy sauce! This will no doubt, be a big hit at our Festa Italiana! Thanks for being a part of it!

Kevin said...

Arrabiatta is one of my favorite pasta dishes. I like sdding a splash of balsamic vinegar to pasta. Those cannolicchi look really interesting.

Anonymous said...

I must disagree Pasta Arrabiata is derived from both the spice content and having to deal with arabs of tunis and libya for the pepper and anger/spice /rage of the temperment of these people.