Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Orechiette con Pomodori

One of my favorite things about food is that it can be as tied to time and place as anything else. Specific foods or flavors of scents of cooking always remind me of people or places. I loved cooking my grandmother's rolladen because it just brings me back to the smell of her kitchen and being young and playing with my grandfather. I can't smell a burger being grilled without remembering how delicious a burger tastes at our lake house. This dish is one of those too. I first learned to make it when I studied in Florence, Italy during my undergrad years. It was the first dish we learned in my regional Italian cooking class and I have remembered it ever since. I don't have it written down and honestly am not completely sure I even make it the way I was taught. It has become one of my signature dishes with my family and something I love to make the second the weather starts to warm up, which it has finally started to do.

I most recently made it for a Sunday supper when I had my fabulous friend/co-worker over for dinner. She's here from London and working like crazy with little down time. In an effort to get the boy to help me take the house from bachelor pad to dinner party appropriate (ie chairs for our dining room table among other things) I invited her over for a much needed home-cooked meal. Not only did we have a fabulous evening but I feel so much better knowing that I can go back to having the dinner parties I became so accustomed to while I was living in LA. I often serve this pasta as a main course but on this night is accompanied a delicious grilled steak to be posted soon.

Orechiette con Pomodori
serves 6

4 pints of cherry tomatoes
200 grams of pecorino romano cheese - finely grated
6-10 cippoline onions - how many you use depends on how big they are, the larger ones you should only need 6
2-3 ribs of celery - again determined by how big they are
1/2 tsp or more crushed red pepper
1 small bunch of arugula - washed, dried and sliced into ribbons
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt

1. Wash the celery ribs and using a knife peel the outer string from each rib. To do this, tuck the blade of the knife just under the very top of the skin (you can usually see the string at the top) and just peel down. Repeat this on both ribs. Roughly chop the celery. Peel the skin from the cippoline and roughly chop. Combine the chopped celery with the chopped onions, add in the crushed red pepper and finely mince everything together.
2. In a large saute pan heat olive oil over medium heat. When heated add in celery, onion and red pepper mixture and salt. Saute until onions become translucent and everything is soft but not browned, lower heat if necessary.
3. While the other vegetables are sauteing wash and remove stems from cherry tomatoes. Cut the cleaned tomatoes in half, quarter the larger ones to ensure that the pieces are all roughly the same size.
4. Add tomatoes to the saute pan cook for 5 minutes uncovered at medium heat. Cover pan and lower heat to low and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes stirring occasionally. Tomatoes are done when they have softened and can be gently smooshed using the back end of a wooden spoon. Taste at this point and adjust salt.
5. While the tomatoes are cooking, bring a large pot of water to boil and cook orechiette according to directions for al dente.
6. Toss cooked pasta with tomato sauce and pecorino cheese. Toss in the arugula just before serving.

I truly love everything about this dish from doing the prep work to the simplicity of the flavors and the ingredients to the fabulously fresh flavor. I should have waited a bit to make this until tomatoes were in season but I had a craving and decided to give in. I don't regret it, it's one of those dishes that always takes me back to that January in Florence when I first learned to make it and I remember that two days later I cooked it for some of my friends from school. I remember sitting in my tiny one room apartment and eating this with a fabulous bottle of $3 Chianti and my new friends. It was my time in Florence that really cultivated my love of cooking and being in the kitchen, which is funny, because my tiny one room apartment barely had a proper kitchen. Two gas burners, a tiny dorm sized fridge and no oven, but it worked and I think made me the cook I am today. Enjoy!


Natashya said...

Bet you were surprised at the price of liquor when you got to Ontario! No $3 bottles here.
The pasta looks so yummy, my fave!

Jennifer said...

I am intrigued by cippoline onions and have yet to find them

Jen H said...

Natashya - there aren't any decent $3 bottles in the US, except for Two Buck Chuck at trader Joe's and it's barely decent! At least they have some of my fave Italian wines here.

Jennifer - Cippolines are great. When I bought them in Italy they had the greens still attached, here they often come in bags much like pearl onions and are often kinda hidden at the regular grocery store. If you look around you should be able to find them. This dish would also be nice with a mix of regular onions and shallots if you can't find the cippoline.