Friday, October 29, 2010

Scare Up Some Pasta

Once upon a time, I went to a neighborhood Halloween party in my former 'hood in Georgia and contributed to a scary-food buffet.  I don't recall exactly what snacks I made, but they looked incredibly gross.  My kids were even grossed out and they watched how I made these creepy, yet tasty, morsels, knowing the ingredients were nothing unusual.  I think monster eyeballs was the name of one of the creations.  I was impressed by the hideousness of my offerings, and the neighborhood kids were, too.  Turns out they thought they looked too horrible to eat!  Hardly anyone at the party touched my stuff (don't you hate when that happens?) and I vowed never to make deliberately ugly food again.  

Well, I broke that vow this week when I prepared  Michael Chiarello's recipe for Spaghettini Cooked in Red Wine with Spicy Broccoli Rabe, which I ripped from the pages of the Oct. 31 issue of Wine Spectator.  Michael, a Napa Valley vintner, "Top Chef Master" runner-up and host of "Easy Entertaining" on Food Network and Cooking Channel, had a nice feature story that included a few of his recipes that "reinterpret Italian ideas with California ingredients and a modern American style."   I had never made any of his stuff before and this looked promising, albeit revolting.  I think the full bottle of Zinfandel it required convinced me to try it.

Presented in our big pasta bowl, this dish puzzled the starving 'Meisters. Studying it quizzically, Son of Hubmeister threatened to bolt for the peanut butter and jelly.  I reassured the skeptics that the pasta had cooked in a bottle of red wine and, using Ina's favorite phrase - "How bad can that be?"-  I started plating it up.  It's a yummy break from pasta monotony, and I can vouch for it being a great leftover, either hot or cold.   Despite remarking that it looked like worms, Son of Hubmeister wolfed it down.  Mmmmm....worms....perfect for Halloween. 

The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out.
Spaghettini Cooked in Red Wine With Spicy Broccoli Rabe
(Wine Spectator)

1 1/2 pounds broccoli rabe (rapini)
1 pound spaghetti or spaghettini
1 bottle (750 ml) dry red wine, preferably Zinfandel
1 T. sugar
1/3 C extra-virgin olive oil
2 T. (about 4 cloves) garlic, peeled and sliced
1 tsp. Calabrian chili paste or 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. kosher salt or sea salt, preferably gray salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C. grated pecorino Romano cheese

1.  In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the broccoli rabe for about 3 minutes.  Transfer the broccoli rabe to a baking sheet and spread it out to cool.

2. In the same boiling water, cook the spaghettini, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes if fresh, 3 to 5 minutes if dried; if using spaghetti, cook 2 minutes if fresh, 6 to 8 minutes if dried. (You'll do the remaining cooking in the Zinfandel.)  Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and set it aside.  Return the empty pasta pot to the stove.

3.  Add the wine and sugar to the pasta pot.  Bring to a boil over high heat and cook to reduce by half, 8 to 10 minutes.  Add the pasta to the pot and gently stir with tongs to prevent the pasta from sticking.  Boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is al dente, about 3 minutes for spaghettini and 4 or 5 minutes for spaghetti.  Tasting tells you when your pasta is ready better than the clock can.

4.  While the pasta cooks in the wine, heat a large, deep saute pan or skillet over high heat.  Add the oil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and saute the garlic until pale golden, about 3 minutes.  Add the chile paste or red pepper flakes, blanched broccoli rabe, and salt and pepper. 

5.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 2 minutes.  Stir in 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water.  Add the broccoli rabe mixture to the pasta, toss gently, and transfer to individual pasta bowls or one large platter.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Serves 8 as a first course. 

Notes:  This would be a pain in the butt to serve as a first course, unless all of your other courses were ready to go.  This will only be an entree at my house and it serves at least 5 adults.  I would add extra red pepper flakes next time and cut back a little on the olive oil.  Before using, trim the stringy stalks from the broccoli rabe.  Michael didn't mention this, but I would definitely get rid of them unless you like stalks.  The leaves are nice; they taste a lot like sauteed fresh spinach.  I had 1/2 cup of the pasta water leftover; why he lists a full cup in the ingredients is a mystery to me.

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