Vesuvius Rigatoni

I have not had a food crush like this in a while. I was watching a tv show about Italian street food and saw this dish and cooked it the next day. I even found a recipe for it online in Italian and translated it to English to find out what exactly was in this dish. I didn’t make the recommended sauces for it (in small part because I didn’t have tomatoes from the foothills of Mount Vesuvius) so I topped it with Julie’s Pasta Sauce. Also, they originally baked these at 300 degrees in aluminum tins lined with plastic wrap but I just used a 6-count nonstick muffin tin instead and it worked great. I’m still very unsure about the whole plastic-wrap-in-the-oven-thing. I tried researching the details about such a thing with inconclusive results. Ok, back to the fun part. To make this dish you will need to dice up a log of fresh mozzarella, mix together grean peas and ricotta cheese (I ended up using about 8 oz.), make mini meatballs (I made simple mini turkey meatballs by combining 1lb. lean ground turkey, one egg, breadcrumbs to texture, garlic powder, salt, and freshly ground black pepper), and boil large rigatoni pasta for 4 minutes. Trust the four minute cooking time and do not worry about stopping the cooking process of the pasta once drained. 4 minutes is perfect.

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Spicy Pesto

(Serves 2 to 3)
1/2 cup lightly packed basil
1/4 cup mint leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/2 serrano chile, stems and seeds removed
1 dash red pepper flakes
1/2 cup raw sliced almonds, unsalted
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, add more if needed
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan or pecorino, half to mix into pesto and half for serving

Place the basil, mint, garlic, chiles, red pepper flakes, almonds, and oil into a food processor and pulse 4 to 5 times. You want a thick paste, not a thin sauce. If you are not using this immediately, pour some more olive oil over the pesto to seal out the air and cover with a tight lid. This can be stored for up to 2 weeks. If you have a blender but not a food processor you just want to be very careful not to over-mix and you’ll likely need to shake the entire thing in between pulses.

This is an alteration of one of my favorite recipes from Mario Batali’s latest cookbook. The original recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds but I’m really not a big fan of fennel. Also, I decreased the amount of serrano chile and removed the seeds the second time a made it. My first pass at this was just too spicy which is really saying something because I am a big fan of spicy. I just felt that the spice overshadowed the rest of the ingredients. I also added just a little more garlic.

I really love this pesto. It’s fresh, nutty, and has a great kick.

Julie’s Pasta Sauce

When you make your own pasta sauce, a simple spaghetti dinner night is transformed into something far more appealing. This sauce is so simple and so tasty: bright, sweet, and with a lovely toasted earthy flavor. I also love that the sauce remains bright red in color.

Usually when I make my own sauce it’s a simple Marinara. I sweat out garlic and onions with some Italian herbs, then, I reduce a little red wine and add peeled, crushed tomatoes with salt and sugar. However, this week when I decided to make spaghetti for dinner, I called my fiancé’s mom Julie, to find out how she makes her amazing sauce. I love Julie’s sauce for many reasons but what really stands out is it’s brightness in flavor. The sauce has a tang similar to the brightness of citrus but without the sourness. I was surprised to find out how incredibly simple it is to make it.

Start by toasting 8 or 9 cloves of garlic, as described in my Toasted Garlic post. After your garlic is toasted, add a large can of peeled, crushed tomatoes (Julie recommends Hunt’s) and a pinch of salt. This sauce does not need to be simmered over time, just warmed. After everything is stirred together it is as good as it will be the next day.

It was funny to think back to when I didn’t know what was in Julie’s sauce, because I would have guessed it was more complex than it is. However, the toasted garlic and the olive oil give it a perfect complexity of flavor. For those of you who are not the biggest garlic fans, I would still try this sauce. The garlic flavor is very present, but it’s not overwhelming.