Pasta of the Week
Oh, for the love of pasta, the world’s favorite dish. In honor of this beloved food, I am starting a new weekly feature.
Each week we will explore a new pasta shape. The pasta noodle comes in every shape and size imaginable and each one is chosen for its interaction with the sauce. The sheer number of pasta shapes is a testament to the complexity of Italian cuisine. Every pasta shape is designed to make love to and compliment its partner on the plate. It is really a thing of beauty. Musicians need to learn the scales, accountants need to learn basic math, and Italian cooks need to know their pasta. It is the foundation of Italian cooking.
The Teamsters of Pasta? What? Remember Italy back in the 1500’s when there were unions? Okay, they weren’t called unions, they were called guilds, but they had basically the same function. In Italy, where food is of utmost importance, the guilds also protected the integrity of the products. For example, in 1574, a pasta guild was formed in Genoa, and it regulated the use of durum wheat semolina, considered the highest quality flour for making pasta.
I thought it would be a good idea to start with the pasta we are most familiar with, good old spaghetti. Even if your first introduction to spaghetti was Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, you will appreciate the light and subtle flavor of this dish. This recipe is a departure from the classic spaghetti and marinara, but is still considered an authentic Italian dish. If you want to go right to the recipe, you can scroll down the page. For the back story… read on.
My recent Italian adventure entailed driving a rental car in Naples. Without a GPS. My suggestion: never do this.
Nevertheless, by divine guidance or sheer luck, an hour and a half later, I ended up at my destination, the little town of Saint George of Sannio. My mission was to search for family members and to lay eyes on the village of my ancestors. Have you ever imagined an Italian hill town with fields of olives and grapes? Then you would recognize this village. I cried when I saw the beauty and imagined my great- great grandparents and their children walking on the same piece of land. So moving.
This recipe for spaghetti, broccolini, red chili peppers, and garlic most likely originates from these towns in Campania, the region that includes Naples and the surrounding villages. I am proud to bring this recipe to you, and I know my ancestors would be happy too.
This was a tough recipe for me to master- mostly because there are so many variables. For example, chili peppers are produced all over the world and are of varying degrees of heat or sweet flavor. I do know this: the peppers used in Italy are the small red chilis pictured below. I had to find a substitute here in California.
I decided to use Cherry bombs, 500 – 1000 on the Scoville scale. I wanted some heat but did not want to overpower the flavor of the garlic and olive oil. These cute little peppers were perfect.
The heat from chili peppers is found in the seeds and the ribs, so if you want a cooler dish, use a knife or spoon to remove the ribs and attached seeds. Once you remove the ribs and seeds from the pepper, you have cooled it off considerably.
This recipe is a bit deceiving. It is not as simple as it seems at first glance. The biggest challenge is timing. I would strongly suggest making this recipe several times before you make it for a dinner party. It is best to have your mise en place (everything in its place: vegetables prepped and equipment at the ready) before you begin. I practiced many times before I felt like I could pull it off under the pressure of entertaining.
But it is so worth it!
Once you master this recipe, you will have at your disposal a quick and easy classic Italian dish that is sure to impress. The flavors are subtle and the dish is perfectly Italian, made with just a few high quality ingredients.
Spaghetti with broccolini, garlic, red chili peppers and olive oil
Light and simple spaghetti dish from southern Italy.
- 8 ounces of broccolini (also known as baby broccoli)
- 6 Cherry bombs or red chili peppers of your choice, seeded and roughly chopped
- 4 gloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 lb dry spaghetti
- 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
- 2 teaspoons salt – 1/3 cup pecorino cheese, grated
- Thoroughly wash broccolini and drain. Cut off and discard last 1/3 of each end. Cut into 1 inch pieces. Cut any particularly large stalks in half lengthwise.
- Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil and parboil broccolini for 3 minutes.
- Immediately immerse broccolini in ice water for 30 seconds to stop further cooking.
- Remove from ice water after 30 seconds and set aside.
- On medium, heat olive oil in 12 inch heavy skillet, preferably cast iron.
- Add salt, garlic, chili peppers and saute for 3 minutes, being careful not to burn garlic.
- Add broccolini and saute for 8 minutes, stirring often.
- While the broccolini is cooking, boil water for pasta and cook spaghetti per instructions on package and drain.
- When broccolini mixture has cooked for 8 minutes, add one ladle-full of spaghetti cooking liquid to skillet and stir. Add cooked spaghetti and parsley to the skillet. Cook and stir for a few minutes until spaghetti is well coated.
- Sprinkle with pecorino cheese and serve immediately. Wine pairing suggestion: Chianti or light bodied Chardonnay