Think outside the (pasta) box and skip the red sauce




Pasta — it’s often what’s for dinner. Quick and easy, comforting and filling, it’s right there on the pantry or grocery shelf, always within reach. Yes, it’s convenient, but maybe it’s time to make a pasta where you think out of the box and step out of the red sauce rut.

On a hunt for something different, we cooked up winners from two clever new books — “Back Pocket Pasta” and “Super Tuscan.” The first one is written by Colu Henry and is a collection of zippy pasta recipes and a few sides. The second features recipes from appetizers to sweets and everything in between by actress Debi Mazar of “Goodfellas” and “Entourage” fame and her husband, Gabriele Corcos. They are the hosts of the James Beard Award-winning cooking show, “Extra Virgin.”

We picked recipes that feature vibrant ingredients that make them distinct and appealing, with nary a red sauce.

Instead of a jar of sauce or a can of tomatoes, spaghetti is paired with succulent sauteed shrimp and a garlic and white wine sauce. Or for a seasonal touch, it’s tossed with winter squash, kale and spicy sausage. A vegetarian version features pasta with nutty roasted cauliflower and salty crisped capers. Still in the vegetal vein, noodles are mixed with a sumptuous blend of garlic-kissed spinach, cream and ricotta cheese, and get a sprinkle of toasty pine nuts on top.

As a cool and useful trick, the pasta cooking water isn’t just chucked down the drain. Instead, a bit of it is reserved and added as an ingredient. A 1-cup metal measuring cup is very handy for this task. As you are tossing the pasta with the other ingredients, add some of that hot cooking water, about ¼ cup at a time, to help create the sauce, melt the cheese and loosen the noodles to bring the dish together.

Finally, freshly grated cheese is a must to help make your pasta dish stand out and sparkle. It will make the pasta sing, and so will your diners.

Miriam Rubin: mmmrubin@gmail.com or on Twitter: @mmmrubin.

Pasta With Cauliflower and Capers

PG tested

Cauliflower is having more than a moment as the new trendy vegetable. It certainly stars in this dish.

1 head cauliflower, trimmed, cut into small florets

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided 

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, divided

3/4 pound rigatoni or other tubular pasta

3 tablespoons drained capers

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Zest of 1 lemon

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Grated Parmesan, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

On large, rimmed baking sheet, toss cauliflower with 2½ tablespoons oil, and season with salt and pepper. Spread out in single layer. Roast, stirring occasionally, until deeply golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven, cover loosely with foil.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add rigatoni and cook according to package directions until al dente. Scoop out and reserve 1 cup pasta water. Drain pasta.

Heat remaining oil in large, heavy, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add capers and cook until beginning to crisp, 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic, red pepper flakes and a splash of pasta water so garlic doesn’t burn and cook, stirring, just until golden.

Add drained pasta, cauliflower, lemon zest and parsley; increase heat and toss to coat, adding enough pasta water to loosen sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot with Parmesan.

Makes 4 servings.

— Adapted from “Back Pocket Pasta: Inspired Dinners to Cook on the Fly” by Colu Henry. (Clarkson Potter; February 2017; $28)

Rigatoni With Squash, Sausage and Kale

PG tested

This calls for black Tuscan or lacinato kale. Regular curly kale works, too, but takes longer to get tender. The authors write: “This pasta balances the somewhat sweet squash with sausage, kale and Romano cheese.”

1 small butternut squash, peeled and seeded (about 2 pounds)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more for serving

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

8 ounces sweet or spicy Italian sausage, casings removed

Two 3-inch sprigs fresh rosemary

1 medium red onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

½ cup dry white wine

1 (12-ounce) bunch kale, stems discarded, leaves coarsely chopped 

¾ pound rigatoni

½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, more for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Oil large rimmed baking sheet.

Cut squash into ½-inch cubes. Measure out 4 cups; reserve remainder for another use.

On prepared baking sheet, toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil and salt and pepper to taste. Bake, stirring occasionally, until tender and tinged with brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven; cover with foil to keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in large, heavy, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage and rosemary, and cook, stirring occasionally, breaking up sausage, until browned. Move sausage to one side of skillet.

Add red onion and garlic to other side; reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring only the onion mixture until softened, about 3 minutes. Mix all together; cook 3 more minutes. Increase heat, stir in wine and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits. Discard rosemary.

In batches, stir in kale. Reduce heat, cover and cook until kale is just tender, about 6 minutes. Turn off heat, stir in squash and cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, bring large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add rigatoni and cook according to package directions until al dente. Scoop out and reserve ½ cup pasta water. Drain pasta well; return to cooking pot, cover.

Add sausage mixture and Romano to rigatoni; mix well, adding enough pasta water to make a light sauce. Serve hot with a drizzle of oil and more Romano on the side.

Makes 4 servings.

— Adapted from “Super Tuscan: Heritage Recipes and Simple Pleasures from Our Kitchen to Your Table” by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar. (October 2017; Simon and Schuster; $35)

Creamed Spinach Pasta

PG tested

Author Colu Henry based this on a, “guilty pleasure,” the creamed spinach she adores, which is served at a Manhattan steakhouse. It’s rich and comforting — and you won’t even miss the steak.

¾ cup ricotta cheese

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

¾ pound tagliatelle or fettuccine

½ cup pine nuts

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 pound baby spinach

1 cup heavy cream

Freshly grated nutmeg

Grated Pecorino Romano cheese, for serving

In large bowl, add ricotta. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Bring large salted pot of water to boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. Scoop out and reserve 1 cup pasta water. Drain pasta.

Meanwhile, toast pine nuts in large heavy deep skillet over medium heat, stirring often so they don’t burn, about 3 minutes. Tip into a bowl.

Wipe skillet clean. Add butter and melt over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring until pale golden, about 2 minutes.

Add spinach in batches, tossing, until all is added. Cook until wilted and tender. Add cream, bring to a simmer and cook until sauce begins to thicken slightly, about 2 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Add pasta to skillet and toss to combine (if your skillet isn’t large enough, mix all in the pasta cooking pot). Add pasta mixture to bowl of ricotta and toss to coat, adding enough pasta water to loosen the sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot, sprinkled with pine nuts. Pass grated Pecorino Romano at the table.

Makes 4 servings.

— Adapted from “Back Pocket Pasta: Inspired Dinners to Cook on the Fly” by Colu Henry. (Clarkson Potter; February 2017; $28)

Spaghetti With Shrimp and Lemon Sauce

PG tested

Instead of olive oil, Gabrielle Corcos finishes this dish with butter, which adds richness and body to the sauce. Cheese is generally not added to seafood pasta dishes.

1 pound spaghetti

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more for serving, divided

1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

â…“ cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add spaghetti and cook according to package directions until al dente. Scoop out and reserve ½ cup pasta water. Drain pasta, return to cooking pot and cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and cook, tossing occasionally, just until opaque around the edges, 2 to 4 minutes. Do not overcook as shrimp will cook more when tossed with the hot pasta. Transfer shrimp to plate; cover with foil to keep warm.

Turn off heat. In same skillet, add remaining 2 tablespoons oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir well to soften garlic, return to medium heat and cook 1 minute, stirring. Add wine and lemon juice, bring to boil; cook 1 minute. Add parsley.

Scrape garlic mixture into spaghetti. Add shrimp and any juices and the butter; mix well, adding a little pasta water as needed to combine and help melt the butter. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot with oil for drizzling.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

— Adapted from “Super Tuscan: Heritage Recipes and Simple Pleasures from Our Kitchen to Your Table” by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar. (Oct. 3, 2017; Simon and Schuster; $35)





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