Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Roasted garlic-tomato pasta--southern Italian flavors that won't weigh you down



To all my five senses, there ain't a more appealing combination of colors than red and green and pasta. Oh yes, 'pasta' is a color. One that gives other colors a canvass to taste spectacular.




Well, before we get into this delightfully easy pasta recipe with roasted garlic and tomato,  I wanted to share with you a short-but-true-story. Sometime last year, wel..almost around nowish, I  invited a friend over for dinner. She said that she loved the way my food looked on-screen. So when she decided to visit Boston, I asked her if she wanted me to make something specific for her. She told me she completely relied on my choice. Very well. I decided to make pasta. I mean, what else? As I started to rinse some spinach, scrub the mushroom while starting the pasta water, my friend asked me in open and I think slightly irritated amazement, that where is the red or the white sauce? To which I said well we are going to make it, but it isn't gonna be red or white. It is going to be with wilted spinach, mushroom and anchovy. Her face fell, or so I thought. Clearly, she must have been thinking that this dinner was doomed. 

A pasta without a sauce. 

And really that is what today's and many of the pasta dishes that I make are themed on. Without rich sauces and yet distinctly flavorful. For some reason, I am not a big fan of rich pasta sauces. You know like the ones from northern or central Italy. I actually do not like rich sauces of any kind. Instead, I am deeply intrigued by the bright flavors of southern Italy...all the way down to Sicily. A combination of herbs, tomatoes, nuts and fishes that are not heavy but very fragrant, light and packed with flavors that need not weigh you down.  Almost reminiscent of the life along the Sicilian or Naples coast.

That day, after my friend had what she claimed was a spectacular pasta, she went home and made it herself. It was anchovy flavored wilted spinach and mushroom pasta. I guess the pasta did not weigh her down :)

Today's pasta is even simpler but no less gorgeous. And it will remind you of the careless and breezy beauty of life and tastes of the sunny southern Italian life that is a joy forever and luckily not a thing of the past.  

So, without much ado, I give you roasted garlic-tomato pasta with scallions. 

Ingredients are key here. Few but make sure you get the best ones. Cos when you are delaing with few ingredients, each must contribute fully and more.

3 pints of grape tomatoes for 1 lb of pasta. Washed and patted as dry as you can. Water will ruin the roasting process.
Grape tomatoes become sweet which is critical for this dish and any other recipe where you are using them. If you are using regular tomatoes coarsely chopped, add a sprinkle of sugar.
1 lb of pasta. 
I really like Linguini or fettuccine. But long strands of pasta are what you are aiming for.
5-7 cloves of garlic. Coarsely slivered. 
You can reduce the amount, if you don't like garlic. You can also substitute with slivered nuts. If you are using slivered nuts like almonds or walnuts, toast it over low flame for 5 min or so till they are fragrant. Take careful note of the fragrance. Just a hint of the fragrance and you want to take the nuts off the heat. You can of course use toasted nuts to garnish the pasta even if you are using garlic. But I like to educe the amount of garlic if in fact you are going to use the nuts at the end. But really beautiful is just the garlic and tomatoes. Really elegant and I urge you try it this way, before going for anything fancier
1 bunch of scallions. Chopped at an angle. All green and red green parts please. We practice 'waste-less-ness' here :)
Salt and Pepper 
2-3 tbsf extra virgin olive oil. Please use an excellent one. 

Roast and toss
Preheat oven to  350 F.
Place your tomatoes and slivered garlic on cast iron skillet. I really like to use cast iron, as it becomes easy to toss and serve the pasta in it and also prevents loss of any of the roasted fluid that forms. But feel free to use a baking tray if you don't have the skillet that I am talking about :) Season with slat and pepper and drizzle with 3 tbsf extra virgin olive oil. Roast undisturbed for 1 hr-15 to 1 hr- 20 mins. Turn once half way through. The garlic will turn brownish and sweet by the time the tomatoes burst. 

You can also roast the combo on a skillet on low heat for 15-20 min. Place your skillet on really low heat and add the tossed mixture of oil, tomato, garlic (and sugar if you are using it). Move around occasionally. But otherwise let roast in peace

Once the tomatoes are roasted, take it out of the oven and add the scallions. The heat will take off the rawness out of the scallions. If you are using a cast iron skillet, there is not much to do then wait for the pasta to cook. If you are using the baking tray, carefully dish the whole concoction onto ta pasta serving tray/bowl. This is what it will look like.


Meanwhile fill up a big pot with water. Cover and bring to boil. Season with salt. Bring back to a rolling boil. Do not..never add pasta before this step. You will just about kill pasta this way. Anyways, once you have the salted water back to the rolling boil, add the pasta carefully and slowly mix it in. Cook till al dente or almost done. Usually 10 mins or close. Retain a cup of the pasta water. Drain carefully and return the pasta to the skillet or wherever you are serving. Toss carefully and caressingly. Use the pasta water if you see things drying. You want a glisten on the pasta. Moist looking and not dry or dull.

Serve in the skillet...what is a very appealingly homey and rustic way to serve. Or the elegant pasta dish. Eat immediately. I suggest pairing with a Sirah wine. But of course any dry red wine would be gorgeous.

A very legit recipe. Remindful of the life, thankfully not-yet-bygone, by the coasts of Naples all the way down to Sicily.

Happy eating and healthy living

1 comment:

The Japanese Redneck said...

Roasting tomatoes just elevates them to such a higher level.