The Poor Wretches Pasta


Street walkers pasta and now poor wretches pasta.  Leave it to the Italians to come up with an interesting name for their local eats.  This is Sicilian by birth.  The pine nuts and currants aren’t traditional but I like what they bring to this dish.

Eggplants are abundant at the moment.  You could take the time to make eggplant parm, moussaka or some other multi-step dish or you could keep it simple and make this.  It is simple but that doesn’t mean it isn’t flavorful.  I have made it twice already and probably will make it again.  I am not doing so because I have eggplants, and lots of them, but because I like it that much.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

good quality olive oil

2 or 3 eggplant, depending on size, peeled and cubed into 1 inch pieces, about 5 cups

2 cups tomato sauce

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons currants

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

16 oz. penne pasta

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil to a small saute pan.  Once it is hot add the bread crumbs and pine nuts.  Season them with salt and pepper and cook them until they are browned.  Add the currants and toss a few times.  Empty the pan into a small bowl  and let the topping cool.

2. About one hour before you start cooking put the eggplant cubes into a colander.  Season the cubes with a fair amount of salt and either place the colander in the sink to drain or in a large bowl.

3.  Place a large pot of generously salted water over high heat.

4.  While the water is coming to a boil place a 14 inch saute pan over high heat and add 1/3 cup of olive oil.  Once it is shimmering but not smoking add the eggplant.  It might splatter a little if there is a lot of water clinging to the pieces so be careful.  Brown the eggplant.

5. Add the red pepper flakes, a little more oil if the pan looks dry,  and then the tomato sauce.  Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce.

6. Add the pasta to the big pot of boiling water and cook the pasta according to the cooking time listed on the box.  Once they are done, add a 1/2 to 1 cup of the starchy pasta cooking liquid to the sauce depending on how reduced it has become.

7. Strain the noodles and add them to the sauce.  Toss to combine and coat the noodles.  Pour the pan out into a large bowl and top with the bread-crumb-currant-pine-nut topping and serve.

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Baked Rigatoni with Currants and Pine Nuts

Baked Rigatoni with Currants and Pine Nuts

The most beautiful San Marzano tomatoes have been coming out, by the  bushel,  of the garden.  I have been canning sauce, making paste and oven dried tomatoes like it is my civic duty to waste not one tomato.  I am loving it.

I can’t wait to open a jar of sauce in the middle of winter.  One that has a sprig of basil hidden in the middle of the red liquid like a secret ingredient.  I lift the lid with a bottle opener and it lets out the familiar gasp of home canned goods.  The smell of last summer’s sunshine rises upward to my nose.

I hoard the stuff.  I don’t want to use it now but rather save it for later.  Then I realize how stupid this is.   So I use the left over sauce, the extra that wouldn’t fill a jar and make this dish.  It is very American-Sicilian in my mind but what do I know.  Well, I know it’s good.

Note: I use a box brand in the recipe but by all means if you have a great home canned tomato sauce use it.

Makes a 9 x 13 casserole

1 pound rigatoni, cooked and cooled according to the directions on the box

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, small dice about 2 cups

2 tablespoons garlic, minced

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses

2 each 28 oz. box Pomi brand chopped tomatoes

1 pound cottage cheese, drained

2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, minced

1/3 cup currants

1/4 cup pinenuts

1/2 cup pecorino romano

2 cups or more, mozzarella, grated

1. Heat a 3 1/2 quart heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and onions and let them sweat until they are soft and become golden around the edges.

2. Add the garlic and when it becomes fragrant add the balsamic and pomegranate syrup. Season with salt and pepper and let the liquid reduce some and then add the chopped tomatoes.

Reduce the sauce to a simmer and let the tomato become thick. It will take about an hour or so. Add the currents to the sauce about 15 minutes before you have finished cooking the sauce so the begin to soften and release some of their flavor.

3. Combine the cooked rigatoni with the cottage cheese, parsley and pecorino cheeses. I usually do this right in the pasta cooking pot after I have drained all the water from the pasta.

4. Now add the tomato sauce and mix to combine.

5. Using a little olive oil oil a 9 x 13 casserole and then pour the noodles into the dish. Top with the mozzarella and bake in a preheated 375˚ F oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until the cheese is browned nicely. About 10 minutes before it is done sprinkle the pine nuts across the top so they brown up nicely. Don’t do this any earlier or the nuts will burn.

6. Let the casserole rest for 5 to 10 minutes and then serve.