Penne with roasted red pepper and basil
We have been back at home for about a week and I am slowly getting back to my routine. We have even bundled up and went for a long walk in the snowy weather, braving the icy footpath. It felt great, especially stopping for an espresso at one of my favourite Italian cafes. I like to have a reward for my efforts and even a simple walk can be turned into an “event”. My health app on the phone registered 10K. Not bad and why not stop for coffee before returning?
Today was the live broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera La Traviata (Verdi) and of course we were there to enjoy it. I mentioned before that the NY Met broadcasts live about 10 matinee performances a year to movie theatres in 70 countries around the world and I move mountains to attend these performances, whether at home or away. While we were in Mexico this year we found out that the University del Caribe in Cancun records these performance (it would be hard to get people away from the beautiful beaches during the day) and offers them in the evening in the open air lobby of the university. We were staying 1.5 hours away from Cancun but nothing was going to stop me form attending and we drove the 3 hours return trip three times over our holiday to catch the performances. The organizer at the university was so impressed with us driving the distance that he announced our attendance to the rest of the guests. It was an amazing experience to watch this almost under the stars (the lobby has a soaring roof and is open on 3 sides).
Today’s performance was so heart wrenchingly beautiful that I must admit that I am not quite back to myself yet. I get pulled into the story and almost experience the tragedy (it’s always a tragedy) first hand. I do not know how the performers come out of the role after doing it over and over to such level of perfection. I still have a box of tissue beside my computer as I am writing this. Oye.
Okay, enough with confessions and back to the kitchen.
Pasta is always welcome at dinner and I had in mind this pasta with roasted red pepper dish. It is adapted from a Neapolitan recipe in Marcella Hazan book, so how can you go wrong with that? The original recipe calls for peeled peppers, not roasted but I am a big fan of roasted peppers and changed it to suit my style. I prefer to use red peppers because they are sweeter, thicker and fleshier than their green and yellow counterparts and retain better texture when roasted.
In the summer I roast peppers in my outdoor kitchen over open flame or on the outdoor grill. In the winter I may roast them over a gas flame on my cooktop but it makes a bit of a mess of which I am not a fan, so I broil them under a hot broiler in the oven until their skin is charred and blackened. This is definitely less messy.
This simple recipe is wonderful for a quick dinner paired with a crisp green salad and crusty bread. What else do you need? Oh, perhaps a nice glass of wine to go with it.
Note: I prefer to roast the peppers myself. If it’s an issue you can still make this dish with good results using fire roasted peppers in a jar (drained). check your Italian deli for good brands. The basil of course must be fresh.
The recipe serve 3-4.
1 lb pasta, penne rigate (with ridges, to catch the bits of pepper)
4 large red peppers (see note above)
3 tablespoons olive oil + 1 tablespoon for the pasta
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 shallot, minced
About 20 fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup grated parmesan
Hot pepper flakes, optional
Cut the peppers along the natural segments, remove pith and seeds.
Line a baking sheet with foil and arrange the peppers, skin side up on the sheet.
Broil under a hot broiler until the skin is blackened and blistered.
Remove from the oven, place the peppers in a bowl and cover, to let them steam. this will make it easier to peel off the skin.
When the peppers are cool enough to handle peel off the skin and discard.
Cut the peppers into strips and set aside.
Warm up the 3 tablespoons oil together with the sliced garlic in a large skillet (large enough to fit the pasta). Keep the heat low, you want to infuse the oil with the garlic, not cook it. As soon as the garlic begins to turn very light golden remove it from heat and discard.
Add the shallot and pepper strips to the pot and cook over moderate heat about 10 minutes.
While the peppers are cooking bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a handful of salt and then the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente.
Drain and add the pasta to the skillet with the peppers, tossing everything together gently to mix the flavours.
Add the cheese and mix it in.
Add the basil leaves and gently mix them in.
Spoon the pasta into warm serving bowls, drizzle a little of the reserved oil if necessary and serve immediately with more parmesan for grating and hot pepper flakes if using.