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Arrabbiata Pasta takes a detour to Mexico

Posted in Food & Entertaining, and Uncategorized

ancho chileHow many ways are there to prepare a basic tomato sauce? Probably as many as there are grandmothers in Italy. My mom has her recipe, always a throwback to my childhood. Sofagirl a while ago posted a wildly popular one by Marcella Hazan . The farther south one travels down the Italian boot, the more garlic and spices are added.

But now I live in LA and my personal cooking is morphing a bastard child of two cultures – or three or four. Some of my LA based Italian girlfriends have stayed very attached to the way things are done “in the old country” and, in many instances, I can relate to that. You will not find me drizzling balsamic on a Caprese (a special anathema to my friend Luisa), nor will I ever finish a risotto with cream (nor will I ever order one in a restaurant). And don’t get me started on the quest for the perfect pizza (best, so far, Olio’s on Beverly Boulevard).

In many other respects, though, I am open to experimentation. California is blessed with a bounty of fruit, vegetables and spices that are not often available in Italy, so why restrict myself? It’s not out of necessity anymore that Italians modify their food – when emigration started in earnest at the dawn of the last century, mammas had to make do with what was available, and hence the birth of what I call “New Jersey Italian cooking” – let’s just say not one of my favourites.

I experiment with very un-Italian ingredients because it’s fun and, sometimes, the results are lovely. Take chile peppers for example. Since working in a professional kitchen alongside many Mexicans, I have discovered all manners of chiles and often wondered how I went through life without chipotle, a divine inspired ingredient that makes anything, from sweet potatoes to chocolate, more interesting.  Last night I felt like pasta with tomato sauce but didn’t want to use butter, and going the simple olive oil/onion/garlic/tomato route seemed a bit boring. Enter Ancho Chile powder.

Ancho is a poblano pepper that has been dried and ground. Anyone with access to poblanos can make their own powder which, by the way, is a main ingredient of mole, but the powder can be easily purchased anywhere (on line, Penzeys and Amazon have it). Ancho chile is not particularly spicy but adds depth and a touch of smokiness to sauces. I tried a little pinch in my tomato sauce. Then I added a pinch more, just enough for a subtle taste but not so much to render the sauce unrecognizable. Everyone at the table agreed it was delicious – nobody could pinpoint what the secret ingredient was.

Pasta arrabbiataRECIPE

1 large onion, chopped
2 cans of tomatoes (whole or diced), with their juices
1 T honey or sugar
2 ts ancho chile powder
3 or 4 T of white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
5 T olive oil (or canola)

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and let cook on medium-high heat until soft, but now brown, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, honey (or sugar), ancho chile powder, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium and let the mixture bubble until thickened, about 20 to 30 minutes.
  3. Let cool and pour in a blender. Add the vinegar and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  4. Cook your pasta of choice, pour some of the sauce on it, heat everything quickly and serve.
  5. The sauce serves up to 12 portions.



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