by Alan Roettinger
Winter has never been my thing. I’m a man who feels most comfortable wearing only a sarong, a pair of sandals, and sunglasses. Yet somehow I ended up living on the side of a mountain in Colorado, which is a tale too long for this page. I’ve since acquired the close friendship of a roaring fire, a hot tub and a hearty meal. Fortunately, a deeply warming and satisfying dish is surprisingly easy to make when you set your mind to it. Give me a bowl of steaming spaghetti, and I’m one contented paesan.
Speaking of spaghetti, a few years ago I discovered brown rice pasta, which is a boon to lovers of Italian food who wish to avoid wheat products. My wife is such a person. It’s the only alternative pasta I’ve encountered that holds its shape, cooks up al dente, and has a reasonably agreeable taste. Let’s not fool ourselves; despite its name, this is not exactly a whole grain, but it does satisfy my requirements adequately, and a wise warrior doesn’t take on too many challenges at once.
My wife is an amazing gardener, and she manages to supply me with fresh herbs well into the winter, from pots she positions near east-facing windows. This is about more than just keeping the cook happy. Fresh herbs are incomparable for adding a bright flavor note, and in the freezing months they’re marvelous ambassadors of summer. Their color alone is warming.
Makes 4 servings
The basil here is heresy. True Penne All’arabbiata is made with parsley, if anything at all. However, I made it once this way for my son, and it was so slurping good, I’ve done so ever since. “All’arabbiata” means “rabid style,” referring to the searing heat imparted by the chiles, so be prepared. Chiles are anti-inflammatory, and good for your immune system. They also have the potential of lifting you into an endorphin-induced stupor, which is always fun.
3 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
7 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 dried red chiles, or 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
4 cups crushed peeled and seeded tomatoes, with juice
1/2 cup packed basil leaves, coarsely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound brown rice penne
Place a large pot of water over high heat and add 3 teaspoons of the salt. While the water is coming to a boil, prepare the sauce.
Put 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of the oil, the garlic, and the chiles in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Shake the pot back and forth to keep the garlic and chiles moving. As soon as the garlic has turned a light tan color, add the tomatoes and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, until the liquid has reduced to a light, pulpy sauce. This should take no more than 10 minutes; the sauce should have a very fresh tomato flavor. Remove from the heat and stir in the basil and a little of the pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning, as needed.
When the water is boiling, add the pasta and stir well to prevent sticking. Cook until the pasta is just tender, but still firm to the bite, about 7 minutes. Immediately drain, reserving a little of the cooking liquid, and return to the pot. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, shaking the pot to coat the pasta well. Add the sauce and heat through, shaking the pan to combine thoroughly. If the sauce is too thick, stir in a splash of the reserved cooking liquid.
Serve at once.