Friday, August 14, 2009

Pasta Ponza Plus Pine Nuts (try saying that three times!)

Giada's newest show - Giada at Home - has failed to wow me. Too many sandwiches. Too many rehashed recipes from her previous shows. Too many sweets.

But now and then, she'll kick out a gem that reminds me why I fell in love with her in the first place. This time it's 'Pasta Ponza' which she made on an episode recently with her Aunt Raffi (she is the rambunctious fly in the ointment of Giada's anal-retentivess - the two are hilarious together.)

Pasta Ponza includes many of the basic pasta ingredients but is slightly unique in its preparation. You first start by roasting a boatload of cherry tomatoes (which are gorgeous right now!) with a coating of seasoned bread crumbs over them to form a crust. I added two cloves of garlic for more flavor and a pinch of red pepper flakes. You then tumble them into a big bowl of cooked pasta, Pecorino, and capers. Toasted pine nuts help round out the tartness from the salty capers and roasted chicken officially make it dinner for the men in your life.

While other pasta recipes are comforting and filling with their simple, familiar flavors - this one is loud and in your face. And don't be disappointed when that breading 'crust' goes melting into the warm pasta, losing its crunch. It simply takes on a different character, still adding to the character of the dish but in a subtler, more velvety way. (I'm convinced it helps all of the ingredients gel and like each other more like, edible ingredient glue.)

By the way - I'm dying to know who's seen Julie and Julia and what you thought of it!!!

Pasta Ponza (plus Pine Nuts and Chicken)
Adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis

Cooking spray to oil an 8x12 glass or ceramic baking dish
4 pints cherry tomatoes (ideally a combination of red and yellow, and organic, washed and de-stemmed)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 heaping tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
1/2 cup Italian-style seasoned breadcrumbs
1 pound ziti or other short tube-shaped pasta
1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated, plus extra for topping off individual bowls
3/4 cup roasted or Rotisserie chicken, skinned and deboned, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the tomatoes, minced garlic, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in the prepared baking dish. Toss to coat. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the tomato mixture. Drizzle the top with another tablespoon of olive oil, cover the top with aluminum foil, and put in the oven to bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, then return to the oven for 15-20 minutes, just until the top is golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes.

In the second stage (de-foil) of the tomatoes cooking, heat a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add a handful (yes - a handful) of kosher or sea salt, stirring in, then letting rise back to a boil Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. You'll want it even more al dente than you normally do (i.e. less cooked) as the addition of all the liquid from the tomatoes will continue to break the pasta down, and soggy pasta is sad pasta:(

Once JUST al dente, transfer the pasta to a large serving bowl, using a spider or slotted spoon (be sure to reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.)

Immediately stir in the final tablespoon of olive oil, then add the cheese and toss well, so that it begins to 'stick' to the pasta. Spoon the tomato mixture onto the pasta, carefully stirring it in. Add a little pasta water, to help everything meld (about 1/4 to 1/2 a cup), then stir in the chicken. Season with salt and pepper, to taste (you probably need only 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt, if that, with all the salt from the pre-seasoning and capers, but this is highly individual.) Finally stir in the toasted pine nuts and chopped parsley and serve immediately, with additional grated cheese over each bowlful.

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