Food Alone: Orecchiette with Roasted Cauliflower, Potato, Pancetta, and Sweet Corn

Here’s another pasta and potato dish that suits the summer. No claims to originality here. This combination of ingredients can be found, I’m sure, in many other recipes. But, then again, how many combinations of basic refrigerator staples can there be? I open the door of the fridge, see a cauliflower that demands to be consumed before it grows mold, some pancetta or guanciale in the same condition, and a few fingerling pototoes in the straw larder. My options are limited, but fortunately I love the effect of combining these elements.

1. Preheat oven to 400.

2. Cut either a small whole cauliflower or half a medium-sized one into florets. Then halve or quarter them. Put the cauliflower pieces in a bowl. Pour in a slug of olive oil and stir to coat the pieces. Add salt and pepper. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread the cauliflower around the baking sheet. Don’t crowd the pieces. Put in oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges of the cauliflower turn brown and caramelized.

2. Put on a pot of well-salted water to boil. Measure 3 1/2 oz of orecchiette pasta and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, mince a big clove of garlic. Dice 1 or 2 oz pancetta, a strip of bacon, or guanciale. Cut into small cubes about 4 fingerling potatoes. Scrap the kernels off one ear of corn and set aside.

4. Sauté the garlic in a bit of oil in a medium sized skillet. Add the pancetta or bacon and stir so that the garlic doesn’t turn golden. After a few minutes, add the potato cubes and corn and continue sauteing.

5. When the cauliflower is done, scrap the pieces off the foil into the skillet.

6. Add 3 1/2 oz. orecchiette to the boiling water and cook for the recommended time minus 2 minutes. Scoop out the pasta with a slotted spoon or spider and dump the wet pasta right into the skillet. Turn up the flame. Add a touch of pasta water (not too much) — just to provide moisture to keep the pasta cooking. Attend closely, let the water evaporate, season as necessary.

7. Meanwhile, chop the parsley and cut 1 oz parmesan cheese to have it ready to grate at the end.

8. When the pasta has reached the degree of firmness you like and the water has almost entirely evaporated, tip the contents of the skillet into a pasta bowl, scatter parsley over it, and grate the cheese.

9. Eat.

10. Savor.

Pasta with Duck Sausage and Carrots Risotto-Style

Partially inspired by an old Saveur recipe.

Patricia Wells’s recipe for Penne ‘Risotto’ taught me how to make a rich pasta sauce with little effort by treating the dried pasta like arborio rice. It’s a trick well worth adding to your bag of techniques. Last night, I surveyed the contents of my fridge: half a duck-and-cherry sausage, some homemade chicken broth, and carrots. I put them all together as if I were making risotto.

Et voilà…

around 2 cups chicken broth (you may have some left over)

a little bit of olive oil or a teaspoon or two of duck fat

2 1/2 – 3 oz duck sausage (failing that, use Italian sausage), casing removed

1/2 small onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

3 1/2 oz gemelli pasta

kosher salt

Parmesano reggiano, grated

Warm a pasta bowl in the oven while you prepare the pasta. Bring the chicken broth to a simmer in a saucepan.

Put the oil or fat in a small or medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, one in which you might make a small amount of risotto. When the oil is hot, break up the sausage as you put the pieces in the fat. Sauté until it starts to brown. Add the onion and stirring to prevent sticking to the bottom. If you see there is more than a tablespoon or so fat, pour off excess fat and return to the burner. Add the uncooked pasta and the diced carrots, stirring to coat them in the fat. Sauté until the color of the pasta has deepened as if it has been toasted, 3-4 minutes over a medium-low flame.

When the pasta has thoroughly absorbed the fat, pour in a half cup of the broth, reduce the heat to a simmer, and stir occasionally until the liquid has mostly evaoporated. Think of each additional half cup of broth as adding a layer of flavor. Wwait until each  layer has been absorbed into the pasta before adding more broth. You will probably add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of broth, depending on how quickly the broth evaporates. It will take a bit longer for the pasta to soften than it would if you were boiling it furiously in water. Cook until the sauce is reduced to the consistency you prefer.

When the pasta is nearly ready — firm to the bite, without crunch — add salt and pepper. If you need more moisture, add broth very sparingly. Take your warmed pasta bowl out of the oven and tip the pasta into it. Grate the parmesan and go eat.

Next time:

  • I’ll try it with Italian sausage.
  • I’ll pour in some white wine when I’ve added the pasta and carrots, although it’s liable to slow down the cooking process, but that’s ok. The additional flavor would be worth it.
  • And chopped parsley.

Orecchiette with Smoked Bacon, Swiss Chard, Red Onion, and Tomatoes

Adapted from a recipe that I can no longer find (The Guardian, I think).

Why did I plant sixteen tomato plants? My kitchen counters are awash in tomatoes. So, I’m cooking with them as much as possible. By dinner time last night, I had enough Weight Watchers points to use a bit of bacon and an ounce of parmesan with pasta. Swiss chard (from my garden), tomatoes (ditto), and red onion laid over a base of garlic and smoked bacon made for a hunger-diminishing plate of pasta. This is a pasta dish where there is definitely more sauce (mainly vegetables) than there is pasta. But you won’t care.

Calories for 1 serving: 350

Weight Watchers points: 7

Servings: 2

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 thick strips of smoked bacon, cut into small chunks

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 red onion, chopped

a bunch of Swiss chard leaves, stems removed

1 pound plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped

salt and pepper

a scant two cups (112 g) dried orecchiette pasta

Prepare all the ingredients before you proceed. Put pasta bowls in warm oven. Put a pot of water on to boil for both the chard and the pasta. While it is coming to a boil, heat the olive oil and add the bacon pieces. Fry until not quite crisp. Reduce heat and add garlic and red onion. Stir to prevent the garlic from turning deep gold.

When the water is boiling, add the Swiss chard leaves to the water. Depending on how fresh or thick they are, blanch the leaves anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes. Drain, let cool, while you continue to stir the garlic to prevent from burning. After a few minutes, add the chopped tomatoes.

Bring the water that you’ve blanched the chard in  to a boil again and add the pasta, which should take 11 minutes or so, which will give you time to continue.

While the tomatoes cook down, use your hands to gather the blanched chard into a ball and squeeze as much water out of it as possible. Roughly chop the chard and add to the bacon, tomatoes, garlic, and onion. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate. The tomatoes should give off liquid. Adjust heat to prevent the liquid from evaporating completely.

Drain the pasta, shake excess water off, and toss into the skillet with the sauce. Stir and taste for seasoning. Transfer to heated pasta bowls. Grate fresh parmesan over the plates and serve.