Yes, Penne all’Arrabbiata, Again

Sometimes you get lucky. I was staying in Rome for a few days, in a hotel near the Colosseum, and happened upon Trattoria Pizzeria da Luzzi. It’s kind of a scruffy place. Young locals eat there. It was a sunny day, so I sat outside. I asked the server, What’s special today? Pennette all’arrabbiata. I ordered, ate, and was filled. Not just filled. Transported.

There are those moments at the table when you just think, THIS is the best thing ever. Tomato, garlic, red pepper.

In Italian “arrabbiata” means angry; mad, crazy. Like rabid in English. I’ve made this sauce ever since–hot but not tongue-melting hot. Some years after that trip to Rome, a friend visiting from Naples came to dinner. When I served him penne all’arrabbiata, he said, “These don’t seem very arrabbiata to me.” And asked for more pepper.  So: adjust the heat to your liking.

This sauce takes ten minutes. These days I cook for two people. Dice a clove or two of garlic in olive oil. Add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. Gently sauté. Try not to brown the garlic.

Add a quarter cup of tomato puree. That’s not a lot! Don’t go crazy with tomato when you cook Italian. Plain puree, no spices added. Plain puree usually comes with a basil leaf in it. That’s okay.

Lower the heat, cover and cook. In the meantime, a pan of water for the pasta is in a rolling boil. Cook the pasta.

Your sauce should thicken. Add a little salt.

Enough penne for two people. No cheese, please. Cheese will become a dominant flavor or wage a nasty war with the tomato and pepper. You want the simplicity and uncomplicated beauty of this sauce.

Bird Beans (Fagioli all’uccelletto)

I can’t get enough beans, ever. This dish resembles, probably badly, a Tuscan bean dish called fagioli all’uccelleto. I’m translating that roughly, and probably badly, as “bird beans.” For this dish you need: dried beans, tomato, sage, garlic, and love.

The recipe calls for cannellini. I usually substitute Michigan navy beans, whose goodness is unsurpassed. This time, because we have been enjoying other recipes for chickpea, the uccelletto (Italian for little bird) is eating chickpeas (though an Italian bird would call them ceci).


Take a Tomato Break

I was talking to my friend Pat a few days ago about tomatoes. “Everyone who’s been there,” she said, “talks about the tomatoes in Italy. They’re supposed to be so good.” Yup, they’re good all right. Here in the US we do pretty well a few months of the year. Over there, year around it seems, great tomatoes.


Pass the Fennel

When I was a kid, my junk food of choice, purchased at Pat’s Food Center across the street from my house, or at the park store in the Missaukee County trailer park, was Twinkies or Mars Bar or Three Musketeers bar (Pat’s) or wax lips or wax coke bottle with that syrupy pseudo coca cola inside or colored-sugar-in-a-straw (county store). I had friends who bought Good and Plenty, black or red licorice. Not me. Ever.


Let There Be Beans

My wife and I are beanophiles, pure and simple.  And could there be a food more pure and simple?

Time was, I bought navy beans at Kroger, plastic sacks of old dry beans grown who knows where and who knows how long ago.  I soaked them, and they woke up from their long sleep, and we made beautiful music together (that is probably not the expression I should use).  They were very okay.


You Gotta Have Peas

No one is neutral on peas.

In England for a conference a few decades ago I was taken to dinner by a local guy who ordered something the English like to eat. It came with a side of mushy peas (mushy rhymes with bushy). To the eye the peas looked like they had been cooked 2-3 hours, then stored away to languish in  cans for 2-3 decades. They were the color of bile, more texture than taste. 

Aside from a few summers I was sent out to the garden to pick peas, and unpodded them and ate them on the spot, I do not have warm memories of peas.


Gross Sauce (Get Rid Of Some Stuff)

The bug bites you every now and then.  Get rid of some stuff.  

We have a couple pantries in our house, one in the kitchen, another over by the garage. Stuff we use regularly we keep in the kitchen, naturally. Stuff that’s not on deck gets stored over by the garage.  Pepper corns, cans of chick peas, back-up jars of marmalade and jams, peanut butter and nutella, tomato paste, boxes of pasta.


Eat Up

In the kitchen I originate very little. Modify, yes; originate, no.

I’m okay with that.

I was gratified recently when I watched “Funke,” a documentary film about Evan Funke, the American chef whose LA restaurant Felix attempts to serve the best pasta in the United States. Not just good pasta. The best.  (Felix menu shown above.) What struck me were Funke’s remarks early in the film about the casalinghe tradition in Italy.