Pasta! You can throw a haphazardly selected set of things over it, and just put it in your mouth. Pesto and green beans? No problem. Leftover meat from yesterday? Sure, plus a chopped tomato. It’s convenience wizardry.
I always feel like a bit of a cheat when I post one of those recipes. Oh, sure, the pasta section of Silver Spoon is basically this kind of combinatorial list, but it’s backed by another 1200 pages of great recipes. It’s hard to feel shortchanged by a book with a whole chapter on endives.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that to make this post feel a little less cursory, I’ve rounded up three basic pasta recipes. Well, it’s more like two and a half. The first is light, summery and vegetarian – rigatoni (or gnocchi) with a sauce of roasted peppers and celery. The second and third are variants – a basic cream sauce with optional spinach, and either salmon or finocchiona sausage.
Rigatoni with roasted pepper and celery sauce
This is heavily influenced by a botched side sauce I had on some arancini at Carluccio’s a few years ago. I think it might be in Carluccio’s Complete Italian, but I don’t have a copy to hand. That’s not really the point, though. They’d jacked the celery way up (it was much milder the next time) and I loved it. This is the final outcome of an attempt to reverse-engineer that flavour.
- 2 red peppers, ideally the long thin sweet kind
- 4 sticks of celery
- 3 cloves garlic
- Pasta or gnocchi
- Red chili, a mild one
- Optional: black olives, sliced
You can switch out the chili for a chipotle in adobo, and you can make this more substantial by adding some fried chorizo, griddled chicken or courgettes, or even some prawns at the end.
Essentially, you roast everything, then put it in a blender. No need to de-vein the celery – it’s actually more annoying than pressing the sauce through a sieve.
Put an oven on at around 160c. Halve and deseed the peppers and the chili, then cut them into chunks. Top and tail the celery and do likewise. Leave the garlic skin on. Toss all of this in a little oil and put it in the oven for around 35 minutes, or until it’s softened and the pepper skins have a little charring. You can probably put the pasta on at this point. Not the gnocchi – that would end badly.
When the veg is soft, peel the garlic, and put everything into a blender with a little salt. Purée the celery, garlic, and peppers until smooth. You should have a thick, vibrantly orange sauce.
Press it through a sieve to remove the celery fibres and any other unwanted bits like seeds. This gives you something nice and smooth, too. Adjust the seasoning if needed – it’ll happily take quite a bit of salt, and toss it over the pasta with any toppings you’re using.
This is gorgeous, colourful, and can be slightly smoky. The celery-pepper mix is a little unusual, and deeply piquant. But it’s not resilient to heat – the celery flavour degrades if you warm it too much. be sure to serve it quickly.
Oh, it makes a great chilled dip, too.
Tripoline with fennel sausage and a spinach cream sauce
Pasta with crumbled sausage is not a world-changing revelation. But it’s tasty, and this looks great in the furled edges of the tripoline. Tagliatelle would be fine, pappardelle would be better.
- Finocchiona or any fennel-heavy Italian sausage (or any good sausage, and some fennel seeds, at a pinch)
- A little garlic
Fresh finocchiona are not the easiest thing to come by. Amazingly, Asda do a passable impersonation as their “Extra Special Italian Fennel & Garlic Sausages”. Marks & Spencer have a range too, but they’re more like a conventional sausage.
Wilt the spinach, and press out the liquid. Chop a clove of garlic.
Take the sausages out of their skins, and crumble them into a frying pan. Fry them until they resemble a kind of coarse mince. This doesn’t take long, so you can probably put the pasta on right after dealing with the spinach.
When the sausage meat is cooked, and just browning lightly, toss in the garlic, and a pinch of fennel seeds if the sausages are mild and need a boost. Fry for a minute or two, then add the spinach. Stir everything together and add a splash of cream. Let it amalgamate, and stir through the pasta.
The risk here is that the cream will be over-rich and cloying. A splash of white wine might help, but I tend to just stick to single cream and use it sparingly. What you put in is what you get – right, fennel-y, meaty.
Tripoline with salmon and lemon zest in a cream sauce
This is substantially the previous recipe. It’s what I did to use up some leftovers, but it was actually a good deal nicer, and it presents far better. The spinach is optional.
I like it, but again: leftovers.
- Salmon (I used fillets, but it doesn’t matter)
- An onion
- The zest of a small lemon
- Optional: spinach
Wilt and drain the spinach if you’re using it. Thinly slice an onion and set it frying on low. It should soften but not brown much.
Zest the lemon, and set the pasta cooking. When the pasta is nearly done, fry the spinach into the onion if you’re using it. Add most of the lemon zest (it wants to be a mild note, so we’ll add more later if it needs it). Add the cream, and let the flavours cook through for a moment. Put the sauce to one side.
Sear the salmon. Cook it quite hot in oil with a little butter so that you get some rich nutty colour on the outside, and it’s just done in the middle. I’d be surprised if this takes 5 minutes. Start skin-side first, and give this the longer cooking time, turning when you’re happy it’s done; perhaps 3 minutes. Work the sauce through the pasta, with a little more zest for freshness, and serve the salmon on top.
You could also cook the salmon and flake it through the sauce, but I quite like the way it presents, and being able to enjoy the seared edge alongside rather than worked through the sauce. There’s the same cream issue as in the previous recipe, so the citrus really helps to gentle it down a bit.