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Pasta for Christmas? Alert Melchior!
by Matthew Amster-Burton
December 7, 2000
It is no longer shocking to admit that you find Christmas slightly repulsive. The ghost of Jacob Marley won't rattle his chains in your general direction if you mention that love and compassion are all well and good, but bell-ringing and the Baby Jesus drive you batty. All that has been said.
Pasta for Christmas dinner, though: that's sacrilege! Go forth and sin happily, for lo, these pastas are red and green and rich enough to give Dad a Santa-belly. The Baby Jesus can eat myrrh.
An unusual thing about this recipe is that the sauce has tomatoes in it, but it's not a tomato sauce per se.
1 lb orecchiette
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 lb Italian sausage, crumbled
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes, drained (you can use fresh tomatoes, but not in December)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bunches (2 lb) broccoli rabe, woody stem bottoms trimmed off and the rest cut into 1" sections (if you can't find any broccoli rabe, substitute a slightly bitter pepper like a green poblano, diced)
Crushed red pepper flakes
Grated pecorino romano
NOTE: I am one of the world's greatest lovers...of Italian sausage, but though sausage and orecchiette are a classic combination, this dish is really just as good without, and I serve it both ways depending on the preferences of my guests and what I'm in the mood for.
BAKED XMAS PENNE
Adapted from Cucina Simpatica by Johanne Killeen and George Germon.
3/4 lb penne rigate
2 cups heavy cream
4 roasted red bell peppers (see below), peeled and pureed in a blender
1/2 cup canned diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup (loosely packed) grated pecorino romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup shredded fontina
2 tbsp ricotta
1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
4 tbsp butter, cut into small chunks
1 green bell pepper, cut into slivers
NOTE 1: The easiest way to roast a pepper is to slice off the top and bottom, core it, and flatten the body of the pepper out onto a baking sheet, skin-side up, along with the top and bottom pieces. Broil until well blackened, then put in a paper bag or a bowl covered with plastic wrap for ten minutes. The peel will slide off.
NOTE 2: This will work fairly well if you just dump all the pasta in a 9x13 baking pan. But I found the ultimate baking dishes for this and other baked pastas. They're made in Lyons by Emile Henry. The specific piece is part of their Le Potier series and is a 6x9 oval, 1.5" deep, with small handles on the ends and beautiful ridged finish. They're available in several colors, including dark green, brown, blue, and natural off-white. Oven-safe up to 520°F. The only drawback is the price, about $23 each. I have no personal interest in whether you buy these; I just love mine.
Illustration: Adam Cadre with Martin of Aragon.