Saturday, January 23, 2010

Penne Rigati with Grilled Baked Vegetables

This recipe came from a wonderful old Italian cookbook discovered by my intrepid husband. The book is filled with recipes from Italy's northern Emilia-Romagna region. These dishes intrigue me because they are different from the southern Italian cooking that I grew up with, but they share the warmth and comfort offered by all rural Italian cooking. This is the kind of comfort food that is welcome at any occasion.

This is a layered vegetable casserole that can be served alone, or over pasta as a main dish. It is flavored with a battuto, a finely chopped mixture of herbs. Tradition calls for the herbs to be chopped with a mezzaluna, but your food processor will work just fine. The original recipe calls for 2 oz of anchovies, but we substituted an extra clove of garlic and black olives to create a flavorful, vegetarian combination. Dry cured black olives are available at Italian delis, and have a wonderfully rich, smooth flavor.

The cheese is important to this dish. Young pecorino is mild and nutty. Stay away from the aged, salty cheeses like Romano. Ask for it as "young pecorino". Cheese shops stock several ages of pecorino.

Assemble the vegetable casserole early in the day if you like. Keep it covered and refrigerated until about 1 hour before serving.

  • 4 red bell peppers
  • 2/3 cup loosely packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 3 large cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 6-10 dry cured black olives (or Kalamata), chopped
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and ground black pepper
  • 5 small onions sliced vertically about 1/4" thick
  • 3 medium zucchini, slices into long strips, about 1/4" thick
  •  1 lb Penne Rigata (a ribbed, tubular pasta)
  • 12 oz young pecorino (sheep's milk cheese), shredded
  • 1 lb penne rigati pasta (ribbed tubes)
  • 6 - 8 quarts salted water
1.  Roast the peppers until well seared on all sides. Skins will blacken. A wood or charcoal fire is the most authentic approach, but feel free to use the broiler. Place the peppers in a paper bag and let rest for 30 minutes. Peel, seed, and dice. Set aside.

2. Prepare the battuto. Chop parsley, garlic, basil, and olives until they are almost a past. Set aside, covered.

3. Lightly oil the onions and zucchini (keep them separate) so that they will brown, and sprinkle them with salt and plenty of pepper. Brown quickly on both sides over high heat in a skillet.

4. Spread the onions in the bottom of a glass baking dish. Top with zucchini. Use a fork to steady the vegetables and cut them into small pieces.

5. Sprinkle the battuto on top of the vegetables. Top with the roasted peppers.

Preheat the oven to 375. About 20 minutes before serving, drizzle 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil over the vegetables. Bake 20 minutes, or until the oil bubbles around the edge of the baking dish.

Prepare the pasta according to package directions. Drain thoroughly. Add the baked vegetables and aboout 1/3 of the cheese. Toss, taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Pass the remaining cheese at the table.

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