Monday, April 24, 2006

Mediterranean Pasta (or Red Pepper-Broccoli Rabe-White Bean & Procuitto Pasta)

There are some people that live and die by pasta. It is their favorite food, it is served at every meal-- it is utterly perfect. For myself, I (still) cannot really understand the effect pasta has on people. I have the same non-chalance with white rice. Sure, I can add butter and salt and it has a great flavor, but… it’s just... there. Does that make any sense? I mean, sure, it tastes good, but in a head-to-head with another starch: warm crisp bread or a baked potato; I’ll take the bread or potato.

Now, I know pasta is not just pasta, and it can be dolled up to create something beautiful on its own. Just like adding olive to bread, tomato paste, spinach or octopus ink added to pasta, all of a sudden creates an attractive taste sensation on the tongue. It is no longer mere pasta. This I accept.

But because of my initial blasé attitude towards pasta in general, I tend to walk past the pasta shelves with hardly a glance; even when they may have “enhanced” pastas. So when D complained that I “don’t let him eat pasta” I was slightly appalled (and quite content) that my own stance had taken hold: D finds his way to the grocery store just as much as I do and I have never not allowed him to buy anything he may want.

So when I was making a run for some flour my eyes were averted by my grocery’s newly expanding organic section. I noticed organic wheat pasta and figured I would give it a try. When I returned with pasta in tow and shared the news with D he could barely fathom his good fortune: “really, pasta?!” You would think we had been living on rations for months and had finally found the black market.

I must admit, there is so much flavor in this dish, the pasta is hardly noticed. If pasta was served like this all the time, I might eat it more often. Because there is no sauce beyond a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of Parmesan and fresh herbs, this dish is a pure breeze in terms of cleanup—it also tastes great warm or cold. The broccoli rabe offers a sweet bitterness that can hold its own against the salty procuitto. The white beans are little bundles of surprise as they dance in and out of the pasta “cups”. Most importantly of all, this dish was a rainbow of colors on the plate and palate.

Makes: 4 servings. Active Time= 15 minutes. Cook Time= about 10 minutes. (Depends on pasta variety.)
* 2 cups pasta
* 6-8 stalks Broccoli Rabe, washed (left whole or chopped into large 2-3 inch pieces)
* ½ Red Bell Pepper, chopped into bite-size pieces
* 1 16-oz can White Beans, washed and drained
* 8 slices Procuitto
* 3-4 Tbl olive oil
* Parmesan to taste, freshly grated
* 2 tsp fresh thyme
* salt/ pepper to taste

1) Prepare pasta according to package instructions. While pasta cooks, prepare the vegetables. (If using fresh pasta, prepare after vegetables are combined, just before serving.)
2) In a large-sized skillet on medium-high heat, warm 1 Tbl olive oil. When hot, Add broccoli rabe and red peppers. Cover and allow to cook until broccoli rabe darkens and begins to wilt; about 4 minutes.
3) Add white beans to the vegetables. Stir, cover and cook another 3-4 minutes; until beans are warmed through. Turn heat low and keep covered until pasta is ready.
4) Drain pasta once ready and wash with cold water (this stops the pasta from cooking without cooling it down too much). Throw warm vegetables over, add a about 2 Tbl Parmesan (allow people to add most of their own quantity), olive oil, salt/ pepper and thyme. Toss to mix.
5) Serve up, adding Procuitto at last moment over the pasta (since Procuitto is already smoked, you want it to retain this flavor. Add it at the last moment to avoid cooking it.)

Head on over to Sweetnick's for today's ARF roundup!

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