Green chilies enhance hearty bowl of orecchiette

The Whole Dish podcast: Roasted chilies make for Latin-Italian fusion pasta

A pasta purist I’m not. Zucchini strips or ribbons of collard greens in my pasta carbonara keep that classic bacon-and-egg recipe from being too rich. I just wouldn’t serve it in Italy and call it “carbonara.”

Puttanesca is another storied dish that I’ve taken to adapting. Swap smoked albacore tuna for the traditional anchovies and saute with fennel bulb for a fresher taste than brine-cured olives and capers can muster.

I even hit on a Mediterranean-Thai fusion that’s become a favorite in the past year. Red chilies and lime juice season ground lamb in a tomatoey sauce for Crying Bucatini.

So I barely blinked an eye this week when my husband decided to turn a basic treatment for roasting Brussels sprouts with bacon into a pasta salad with mustardy-lemony vinaigrette. My only contribution: suggesting that he use orecchiette, rather than penne, because of its shape similar to the sprouts. Mimicking shapes and sizes, of course, yields a more sophisticated presentation and satisfying mouthfeel.

We both agreed that the results warranted making again, perhaps as a cream-sauced dish enhanced with goat cheese or blue cheese. I wouldn’t even mind a little spice.

And since spying this recipe for orecchiette, I’ve got a new use in mind for my freezer cache of roasted garden chilies. The sausage would be right up my husband’s alley. I’d adapt this even further to use ground chorizo instead of Italian sausage and perhaps roasted butternut squash with the cream variation.

Tribune News Service photo

Orecchiette With Roasted Green Chilies, Sausage and Leeks

3 green chilies (about 12 ounces), such as a combination of Anaheim chilies and poblano

1 pound uncooked sweet or spicy Italian sausage, removed from casing

1 large leek (about 11 ounces), ends trimmed, quartered lengthwise, well-rinsed

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed

1 cup chicken broth

3 cups tomato marinara sauce or 1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper or crushed red peppers to taste

1 pound orecchiette pasta

4 loosely packed cups (about 1/2 of a 5-ounce bag) baby kale or spinach

Freshly shredded pecorino Romano cheese

Roast the chilies over an open flame (or on a baking sheet set 6 inches from oven broiler), turning often, until skin is blistered and blackened on all sides, for about 10 minutes total. Cool under a towel, then rub off blackened skins. Remove core and stem. Rinse chilies under cool, running water and pat dry. Cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips, then cut strips into 1-inch lengths.

Put the sausage into a large, deep nonstick skillet. Cook, breaking sausage up into little pieces, until golden and cooked through, for about 8 minutes. Tip off excess fat if you wish.

Meanwhile, thinly slice the leek (white and most of dark-green top). Stir leek and the olive oil into sausage and cook until leek is wilted, for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the chicken broth and tomato sauce (or cream), and heat to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

Heat a large heavy-bottomed pot full of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and cook al dente (a little toothsome to bite), for about 12 to 15 minutes. Scoop out and reserve about 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Drain pasta.

Stir pasta into sausage mixture and put over high heat for 1 or 2 minutes. Loosen texture by dribbling in a little reserved pasta water. Add the kale and chilies; toss to mix and heat through, for about 1 minute. Serve right away. Pass the cheese.

Makes 8 servings.

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