Now that Amy is on a low-carb diet (she looks great), it seems that whenever she is out, we have pasta for dinner. We occasionally serve it as a main or side when she is home, but try not too, since the temptation seems unfair. One of my favorite, super-easy, vegetarian and completely artery-clogging pasta dishes is something I call stringy pasta. If you love how mozzarella gets stringy when it melts, you will love this dish.
Basically, you make a garlicy, spicy tomato sauce, melt in as much fresh mozzarella as you can, and then serve it over pasta. I forget where the recipe originally came from, but it is almost easy enough not to require one. Given that it is local asparagus season for the next few weeks, I would preferred to have made an asparagus and anchovy riff on carbonara last night (maybe I will try and post this next week), but living with a vegetarian and an anchovyophobe, not to mention an anti-carbotarian, I have been making lots of stringy pasta. Believe me, it is no sacrifice. Here is the recipe:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 10 cloves garlic, chopped, more if you want; there is really no upper limit here
- 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (more or less depending on the level of heat that you want; I use them straight from the jar, but you can crumble a dried red pepper if you are fussy)
- 8-10 grinds of the pepper mill
- 1 28 oz. can chopped tomatoes (by now readers of this blog should know that I like del Valle chopped cherry tomatoes)
- 10 ounces to 1 pound fresh, salted mozzarella, grated coarse (it grates easier after a brief turn in the freezer)
- 1 pound twisty pasta -- I like rotini , fusilli, gemelli or cavatappi; anything to trap the sauce
- Bring to boil 4-6 quarts of water in a large pot. Salt generously.
- Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet or pot.
- Add garlic and cook until soft but not brown.
- Add red pepper flakes and black pepper and stir.
- Add tomatoes, and cook on high for about 10 minutes until the oil begins to separate and the sauce is done. Taste for salt and keep warm on low heat.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until very al dente (see below).
- When the pasta is almost done, begin adding the mozzarella to the sauce, turning up the heat if necessary. Add as much as the sauce will take and your conscience will allow. 12 ounces of a bit more should be about right. It will become something of a stringy mess.
- Drain the pasta and immediately add to the sauce, tossing and coating it well in the hot sauce for a few minutes so that the sauce and stringy cheese gets into the nooks and crannies.
- Serve (ideally on warmed plates) with more red and black pepper, red pepper oil, and parmesean cheese for those who want it. It goes nice with a lightly chilled simple cheapish red -- we had a Malbec, though a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo would be great as well.
Warmed plates??: It was in the 90s yesterday, so we had the air conditioner and the ceiling fan on in the dining room. The fan cooled the pasta too quickly, and it is much better piping hot. Warmed plates would have helped. Maybe it is a winter dish best served in an overheated NYC apartment, but I was in the mood.
Al dente: We were in Southern Italy in 2001, and al dente (litterally, on the tooth) takes on a whole new meaning there. In the first place, they generally serve dried macaroni pasta, rather than egg pasta. And it is cooked much firmer than we have ever had it in the US, especially long pasta like spaghetti, but also the shorter shapes. They are cooked so that they almost snap in your mouth when you chew on them. When you are going to cook the pasta a bit with the sauce, it is really important not to overcook it in the water. Timing is so variable that you have to test it, and there should be some visibly raw in the center.
Garlic: I say that there is no upper limit for the quantity of garlic, but if it reaches the point that the odor starts coming out of your pores and your coworkers ask you the next day if you ate raw garlic for breakfast, you should probably cut it back.