Here’s a quick post for a quick dinner: for when you’re too tired and hungry to do anything other than throw some pasta in some boiling salted water, open up a can or two, grate a bit of cheese and sink into the couch with a bowl full of noodles and a sigh.
It’s how I’ve been feeling lately, which I suppose is better than being bored, but it’s also not conducive to cooking elaborate meals or doing imaginative baking. Luckily I have some handy resources around like Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food, and while this recipe isn’t from that book, reading it has definitely reinforced the idea that whipping something up quickly from storecupboard ingredients doesn’t mean you have to have the same old boring thing or resort to prepackaged meals.
So, this pasta: it’s easy, you probably have most of the ingredients at hand (well, maybe not the chipotle peppers but they’re worth picking up), the sauce cooks in practically the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta. Normal arrabbiata sauce is good enough – simple but fiery from the addition of chillies – but one day I tried adding chipotle peppers instead of regular chilli, and I’ve been hooked on this Mexican-Italian (Mexi-talian?) twist ever since.
I’m sure someone else has invented this dish before, but for me it was born on the Fourth of July this year, which happened to fall on a Monday and a particularly busy work day at that. But I had promised an American friend I’d meet her for a beer after work, and by the time I got home it was 9 pm, I was exhausted and all I’d ingested since lunchtime was a couple of American craft beers and a handful of edamame (at the wonderful Hashigo Zake).
Now I’m definitely not advocating drinking and frying but some of my best kitchen breakthroughs (like mastering the art of the perfectly-poached egg) have come in that too-sober-for-takeaways, tipsy-enough-to-be-ravenous state we get into at one stage or other. This was no exception: I needed something substantial and satisfying – and fast. So I turned to pasta, looked in the cupboards with a stumped look on my face, spotted a can of tomatoes. My mind turned to arrabbiata.
I started chopping and frying the onions and garlic and then remembered the can of chipotle peppers I had emptied into a jar in the fridge. So instead of the traditional fiery hot arrabbiata sauce, I ended up making something smoky-spicy and utterly delicious.
Since then this has been my go-to recipe for a pasta dish that takes little to no effort but tastes like something special. It’s really not too far a stretch from the traditional arrabbiata sauce but the addition of chipotle adds an extra bit of dimension, a welcome surprise.
CHIPOTLE PENNE ALL’ARRABBIATA
(serves 2 or 3)
Heat a decent glug (a couple tablespoons at least) of olive oil in a skillet. Add 1/2 chopped onion and start to fry over medium heat. Mince 1 clove garlic and add to the onion along with 1-2 chopped canned chipotle peppers* and fry gently for a few minutes until the onion softens and starts to turn brown. Pour a bit of red wine into the pan and deglaze. Add a can of chopped tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer until it reduces – 15 or 20 minutes is ideal, but if you’re in a hurry, until the pasta’s ready is fine.
Bring a pot of well-salted water to the boil and add about 200-250g penne. Cook until al dente, reserve a bit of the pasta water, drain.
Add the pasta to the sauce and give it a good stir so that everything’s nicely coated. Add some of the pasta water to thin out the sauce if needed. Serve topped with a bit of chopped parsley** and grated parmesan or pecorino.
*In Wellington, I get chipotle peppers from Moore Wilson’s – they come in those La Morena cans with the sultry lady on the front. A well-stocked supermarket is also likely to have them, or you could order online.
**Now that I think of it, this could be good with chopped coriander substituted for the parsley… hmm!