Sometimes a pasta sauce comes along that absolutely captivates me. That's exactly what happened on my recent trip to the French and Italian Riviera.
Today's pasta sauce is so pure, so simple and yet so different from anything I've ever eaten. I wonder how I've missed it this long.
Italian restaurants (even in France) that dot the coast are as abundant as the tourists. And just like here in the United States, some are bad, some are good and some are amazing. But we did our duty, trying out as many restaurants as we could.
Without fail, every menu featured Penne all'Arrabbiata (also spelled Penne Arrabiatta and Penne al'Arabbiata). After the third Italian restaurant, we decided to see what this staple was all about. We were hooked. No matter the spelling, the sauce was the same spicy, garlic-laden treat we just couldn't get enough of.
As soon as I returned home, I flew into the test kitchen to try my hand at the sauce. Cloves of garlic and bottles of hot pepper flakes later, I hit the perfect blend of spicy hot peppers and tangy sweet tomatoes that I remember. Because it is so easy to find a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes, my sauce makes 4 cups. At 1/3 cup of sauce per serving, it serves 12. But it won't go to waste! The sauce freezes beautifully. Just thaw and toss with future batches of pasta for a really quick, delicious dinner.
I'm still working on finding my way back to the salty ocean breezes that accompanied each meal along the Riviera.
Until then, I've got a freezer full of a simple, classic pasta sauce that pleases all the same and in just 20 minutes.
Start to finish: 20 minutes
Makes 4 cups sauce
2 ounces dry penne pasta for each serving (see cook's note)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (see Cook's note)
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
shredded Parmesan cheese, to taste, for serving
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set hot cooked pasta aside.
While pasta is cooking, heat oil over medium in a 2-quart or larger saucepan. Add garlic and red pepper flakes to hot oil. Add chopped red bell pepper and salt; stir and cook for two minutes or until bell pepper begins to soften. Add tomatoes and reduce heat to low.
Cover and simmer sauce until pasta is done.
For each serving, toss hot pasta and 1/3 cup of sauce together in a pasta bowl. Top each serving with shredded Parmesan cheese, to taste, and serve.
(Freeze leftover sauce in an airtight container for up to three months.)
Cook's note: Use 2 ounces of dry pasta for each serving, and toss with 1/3 cup of the sauce. The recipe makes 12 servings (4 cups).
Red pepper flakes can be added to taste. One teaspoon gives the sauce a nice, smooth heat. Add additional, to taste, after sauce is cooked to increase the heat level.
Approximate values per serving (see Cook's note): 240 calories (8 percent from fat), 2g fat (0.5g saturated), no cholesterol, 9g protein, 48g carbohydrates, 3g dietary fiber, 139mg sodium
Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are co-authors of "Desperation Dinners!" (Workman, 1997), "Desperation Entertaining!" (Workman, 2002) and "Cheap. Fast. Good!" (Workman, 2006). Contact them at Desperation Dinners, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit the Desperation Dinners website at www.kitchenscoop.com.