Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Recipe 1: Penne with Basil and Pine Nuts

To my beloved followers, I wanted to take a minute to let you know that Cookbook Crack Down is undergoing a face lift. I have been informed that I can now include the recipes, along with more information from the book. With that said, I am issuing a challenge to those who are serious about justifying the purchase of a cookbook. Give the recipes I am trying a chance yourself and then decide to purchase the book or not. So..... here is the first recipe from this book.

Penne with Basil and Pine Nuts   
Williams-Sonoma,  Simple Suppers Copyright 2007

Penne-1 lb.
Pine Nuts- 1/2 cup
Olive Oil- 6 Tablespoons (Be sure to use olive oil)
Fine Bread Crumbs- 1 cup
Garlic- 3 cloves, minced
Dry White Wine-1 cup
Red Pepper Flakes- 1/4 Teaspoon
Parmesan Cheese- 1/4 lb., freshly grated
Fresh Basil Leaves- 2/3 cup

Mise en place! (Things in order!)
Toasting the nuts is key!
Cook the pasta according to the package. While the pasta is cooking, toast the pine nuts in a dry saute pan, until fragrant and golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan, add the bread crumbs, and toss until toasted and golden, 1-2 minutes. Add to the bowl with the pine nuts and stir to mix. Reduce heat to medium and add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the wine and red pepper flakes, bring to a boil, and simmer until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes.

Such good wine, such good sauce!
Add the hot pasta along with the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil to the wine sauce in the pan and toss to coat the pasta. Add the bread crumb mixture, the cheese, and the bail and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Since I have posted the recipe, I feel like I should share my experience while I cooked. Here it is....

First off, I chose to use penne rigate instead of normal penne. Penne rigate is penne with ridges. This allowed more of the sauce to adhere to the pasta and gave more sauce per bite. I also left the pasta at al dente (with a bite) so that the noodle would not blend too much with the texture of the sauce.

The finished product!
Also, be sure to toast your nuts! Seriously, this is a key step to giving the best flavor profile to the dish. By toasting the nuts, the essential oils are able to be released and you will be able to see them in the pan. The nuts gain a deeper flavor and make the dish feel a bit more rich.

Now onto the best part--the wine! I want you to be sure you use "quality" ingredients for your meals. Before you jump in and say, "Hey Abb, I thought you were a tightwad who doesn't like to spend a lot on food!", I want to make myself clear. When I say quality ingredients, I mean ingredients which are still affordable, yet have a good amount of flavor. For example, when the recipe calls for a dry white wine, you don't have to spend $15 bucks on a bottle of cooking wine. Au contraire, mon ami! I am an advocate of Two Buck Chuck, or for those of you who don't know Chuck, Charles Shaw wines found at Trader Joe's. While the wine is not literally two bucks (in Ohio), it is under four dollars and is ideal for cooking.

With my tips and tricks out of the way, time to "crack down" the recipe. I have to say I was a bit timid at first. I am a pasta traditionalist who loves the red sauce out of the jar. I am, however, a carboholic who can't turn down a new carbtastic treat. The idea of a wine and breadcrumbs sauce was a bit of an eyebrow raiser for me, however I eagerly tackled the challenge.

The overall meal is amazing! I love the rich sauce, full of cheese and basil. Be sure you use fresh basil because dried basil just won't have the same effect. The noodles cooked to al dente are able to deliver the sauce, yet have a flavor all of their own. The sauce has a nice consistency and is not dry or gritty like you might think. I was taken aback when I looked at Andy's plate and his was gone.... but then I looked at mine, and it was gone too! We loved this dish. To round out the meal, I paired it with a salad of baby greens and a light vinaigrette.

I certainly hope the new format of Cookbook Crack Down will allow you to be more engaged and give you the ability to share your own thoughts and ideas.

I'll keep'em coming!


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