Lee's Kitchen: Pepperoni pasta always a delicious option

On Jan. 27, I went to the Mystic Marriott to judge the chocolate gala to benefit Fairview in Groton.

I used to call rest homes like Fairview old persons’ homes, but now that I am actually an old person, there are other names that sound nicer, like independent or assisted living.

Some years ago a friend told me that when she gets old, she wants to be at Fairview, with its gorgeous view of the Thames River. And when her time comes, she said, she wants someone to wheel her down the rolling green hills right into the river.

These days she might have a different take, since Fairview’s many-acred “campus” is gorgeous and has single houses which people buy long before they need any assisting at all. And among the hundreds of people who paid to get a sugar rush that Sunday, Fairview will fund activities for the very active residents there.

The chocolate was pretty delicious, gorgeous and, for two of the competitors, mighty edgy. The biggest awards went to Franck Iglesias, executive pastry chef at Foxwoods, and Mark Vecchitto at Octagon, housed at the Mystic Marriott.

By the way, we three judges (including The Day’s Rick Koster and Maurice Beebe, who was chef/owner of the late North End Deli) did not know whose chocolate we were eating; the establishments were numbered and only at the end did we know who was who.

As with most dessert contests, by the end of the day I mostly wanted a hamburger. In truth, I got home and ate a tuna sandwich, because there were no leftovers in my refrigerator. With more weather events ahead, food to be made for a friend after surgery, and some dishes to take for a Super Bowl party coming up, it was time to cook.

This is one of my first ever pasta dishes. My nephew made it for me first, about 30 years ago, from Jeff Smith’s first cookbook. I have adapted it so much that I consider it my own. I will double the recipe for my friends and as leftovers for myself.

 

Pepperoni Pasta

 

Yield: serves 4 to 6

 

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium-sized sweet onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 28-ounce can of whole or diced tomatoes

1 or so jigger of vodka (optional)

1/2 pound thinly sliced pepperoni (buy the pepperoni sliced at the supermarket’s deli counter)

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like it spicy)

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 to 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

lots of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano cheese

1 pound pasta (I like rigatoni or penne, but any pasta will do)

 

Place a big stockpot full of water on the stove and bring to a boil.

In the meantime, in a large skillet, warm oil, then add onion and garlic. Cook over medium-low heat until translucent (try not to brown the herbs). Add the entire can of tomatoes; while warming, mash tomatoes if you are using whole tomatoes rather than diced tomatoes. When hot, add vodka and cook for about 4 minutes, at which point most of the liquor will have evaporated.

Toss in pepperoni and stir; cook for another few minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and beginning adding cayenne pepper, tasting each for amount of spiciness.

In the meantime, when water is boiling, add quite a bit of salt (a few tablespoons), then add pasta. Stir until water comes back to a boil, drop heat to medium and cook until al dente (a bit of chewiness).

While pasta is cooking, add heavy cream and stir until a pretty coral color. Turn heat to low and cover.

When pasta is al dente, drain but keep half a cup of pasta water to add to sauce if necessary. Add pasta to sauce (or vice versa). Toss well, adding pasta water if you want to thin it a bit. Add fresh basil and cheese; serve immediately, with more cheese so people can add more to their bowls.

Lee White can be reached at leeawhite@aol.com.

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