Pasta with Oven Roasted Vegetables

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I often get ask the questions “why are there so many different pasta type? Isn’t pasta all the same?”. The answer is, unsurprisingly, that each pasta shape is cleverly designed to serve a specific purpose, and, no, it is not all the same. You try talk a roman into matching amatriciana sauce with farfalle? You  are likely to get cursed at! How can you not know that only bucatini and rigatoni will do? By the same token, ask a genovese to replace spaghetti or trofie with orecchiette, to be lavishly coated in emerald green pesto sauce and he will tell you he’d rather set his own hair on fire than commit such blasphemy. Indeed, we do take the matter of pasta seriously in Italy. Each shape is suited for a particular type of sauce. Shellfish love spaghetti and linguine, penne is heavenly with a simple fresh tomato sauce and fusilli, the famous spiral-shaped pasta, is a perfect vehicle for chunky and rustic sauces, such as this one: oven roasted vegetables, rendered sweet by the addition of a little vincotto and the irresistible piquancy of extra-virgin olive oil.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

2 cups of cherry tomatoes, cut in half

2 celery sticks, chopped,

1 green pepper (capsicum) cut into small chunks

3/4 shallots cut into quarters

2 garlic cloves, skin off, bashed with the back of a knife

4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons of  vincotto (replace with balsamic vinegar if hard to find)

salt to taste

1 lb of uncooked pasta (fusilli or rigatoni work well with this sauce)

basil leaves

percorino cheese (omit for a vegan, dairy-free option)

How to

1. Place all the vegetables in a large bowl, add the oil, vicotto (or vinegar) and a little salt. Toss to combine and place the vegetables onto an oven tray lined with baking paper.

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2. Bake in a preheated 180C  (350 F) oven for 40-45 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and slightly blistered. Set aside to cool at room temperature. Refrigerate if not using straight away. The vegetables will keep well in the fridge for up to 24 hours.

3. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.  Drop in your pasta and cook al dente, according to instructions.

4. Drain the pasta, but reserve 2-3 tablespoons of pasta cooking water.

5. Toss the pasta in the tray with the vegetables until well coated, add a little pasta cooking water if too dry.  Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

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6. Top with freshly grated pecorino cheese and a few basil leaves. Serve hot, or at room temperature as a summer pasta salad.

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Rigatoni all’ Amatriciana (Pasta Amatriciana)

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This post is long over-due…I made Amatriciana for my family about a month ago and the photos had been sitting on my computer since then. It was only after I watched an episode of Australian Masterchef, during which one of the contestants had to replicate Cesare Casella’s Amatriciana, that I felt urged to stand up for the authenticity of this traditional Italian pasta dish. Even the lovely and talented Lidia Bastianich, who served as a guest judge on the show, could not refrain her..ehm..surpirse, when she tasted an array of extraneous ingredients in the sauce. It was undoubtably tasty, but Amatriciana it was not. This is one of those dishes that causes animated and feisty conversations at an Italian dinner table. Does it have onion? Is it made with pancetta or guanciale? Is the tomato supposed to be there? It doesn’t really concern me who’s wrong or right, what tastes better or worse. All I care about, in my quest for the authenticity of this dish, now part of Lazio Prodotto Agroalimentare Tradizionaleis to preserve its culinary heritage. Amatriciana is told to be the direct offspring of Pasta alla Gricia, which used to be made with guanciale (pork cheek) and pecorino only and to this day it is still a popular dish, in its simplicity, in Central Italy. Sometime in the 18th century, some innovative cook from Amatrice, must have decided tomatoes would be a valuable addition to the Gricia recipe, turning this peasant meal into one of Italy’s most loved exports. Even the choice of pasta is dictated by tradition. Originally it was Spaghetti, but these days Bucatini and Rigatoni are well tolerated. A friend of mine from Amatrice, Massimo , will tell you that any other pasta such as penne or tagliatelle is not simply to avoid, it is to be forbidden!

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

200 gr (1/3 cup) of chopped guanciale (cured pork cheek)

extra virgin olive oil

chopped dry chillie

a tablespoon of white wine vinegar

1/4 cup of dry white wine

450 gr (1 lb) of pasta

500 gr (2 cups) of peeled tomatoes (tinned tomatoes) or passata

Salt and pepper to taste

Freshly grated Pecorino cheese to serve

HOW TO

1. Fry the guanciale or pancetta in EVOO . Keep the flame low to allow the fat to render and the pork to develop a sweet flavour. When it’s starting to get a nice sun-burnt colour, add a sprinkle of chopped dry chillie and glaze the pan withwhite wine vinegar and  dry white wine. The acidity will balance the richness of the caramelized cured pork.

2. In the meantime, drop 450 gr (1 lb) of pasta into salted boiling water.

3. Return to your sauce. When the alcohol has evaporated, add the tinned tomatoes (or passata) and allow to cook for 20-25 minutes over low heat. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

4. When the pasta is al dente, drop it into your sauce, with a couple of tablespoons of acqua di cottura (pasta cooking water). This will help to bind the sauce and achieve a creamy consistency. Turn the heat off and mix through a very generous amount of pecorino and freshly ground black pepper, if liked . Let it rest for a few minutes before serving, to allow the pepperiness of the cheese to impregnate the pasta.

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Open a bottle of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, and you are already in Italy.

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