Before we get into tonight’s dinner, let me just say: I made the “wrong” salad and used the “wrong” pasta. But sometimes cooking is what we’re in the mood for, not necessarily perfectly complementary cooking. It is a light tomato sauce, therefore should have a lighter salad. Some baby arugula with simple olive oil and salt and pepper would have been perfect. I’m in the mood for fennel and celery salad with remoulade dressing so that’s what I’m making!
Also, a light sauce requires a lighter pasta. There’s a reason alfredo is on fettuccine – heavy sauce, hearty pasta. This sauce would have been a little too heavy for angel hair, but thin spaghetti would have worked. I am using bucatini. Because it’s fun and that’s more than reason enough. Bucatini is like super thick spaghetti, with a hole all the way through.
It holds up great to ragus and braised short ribs, which I will definitely take you through another day. But today we are making bucatini with smoked paprika vine-ripened tomato sauce and a fennel-celery salad with remoulade dressing. I am out of bread so no garlic bread. Rats. I can only send Staci out so often and still fan the flames of love.
I preheat the oven to 400F and while it’s heating, I start with the salad because it can be made ahead and set aside. For just Staci and I, I use either a half of a large fennel bulb or a whole small one, depending on what I can find, and about 3 or 4 celery stalks. I set the mandolin at ⅙”/1.5mm (my favorite blade) and slice those puppies paper thin. I managed to NOT cut myself even though I can’t use the guard with either of these vegetables (applause, please).
In a small bowl I combined mayonnaise, dijon mustard, a little ketchup, some chopped capers, a little paprika (regular – smoked would be way too heavy for this dressing), a squirt of lemon, some salt and a dash of worcestershire sauce.
I also set aside some very thinly sliced garden onion to be added to the top. Like ribbon thin. Stirred it all together and added it to the celery and fennel until I had the creamy consistency I was looking for. I added the garden onion on the top and set the salads aside.
I have some small on-the-vine tomatoes which called my name at the grocery store. They came in a small container of 12 and are about the size of golf balls. I removed them from the vine, sliced in half and put on a lipped baking sheet. Then swirled some olive oil over those bad boys and a few grinds of salt. Into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes depending on your oven. They should look wrinkled up and may even blister a bit which is fine. I pulled them out of the oven and let them cool a little while making the base for the sauce.
I chop up an onion (half of an onion when it’s winter). Don’t you just love summer vidalias? I could eat them like apples. If you have never tried one, run as fast as you can to your local market of preference and buy every vidalia you can fine! Now….go, what are you waiting for? This post will still be here when you get back. Seriously, I look forward to them every summer and use at least twice as much when cooking them vs regular onions since they are so sweet. Anyway, I threw the onion into a pan with a little (or a lot of) butter over medium heat. Then I minced 3 garlic cloves and threw those in there as well and sauteed until the onions were translucent (almost see-through). Is there anything more fragrant than onion and garlic and butter wafting through the house? So comforting somehow.
Once the onions are nearly done, I add about a half cup white wine and a few glugs of chicken broth. Then I added the roasted tomatoes, skin and all. (If we were having company, I would probably remove the skins because they can be a bit chewy but we don’t mind them and who doesn’t need a little fiber?) I smooshed the tomatoes down with a spatula (smooshing is the technical term, very important). Then I cranked up the heat to a medium boil and let it reduce by about half. During that time I put on a big stockpot of water to boil. Once it is reduced, turn the heat to low.
Always boil your pasta in plenty of water. I use a ridiculously large soup pot. You want to give it room to move and release its starches into the water. Why? I’m so glad you asked. I always finish any sauce with a ladle of pasta water. It helps thicken the sauce and is a proverbial glue that holds everything together and makes it all stick in that oh-so-delicious way. Also, another pasta tip: You can salt the water prior if you wish to coax your water into boiling sooner. However, you should always salt the water after adding the pasta. It’s the only opportunity to season it. Seasoning from the salted water will stick well. Trying to salt pasta after draining is ineffective. The salt just sits there looking pretty but does not otherwise enhance the pasta. Oh, you all are just learning so much tonight!
Once the water is at a good rolling boil, I added the bucatini. I broke protocol here too (I know, I’m such a rebel) and broke the pasta in half. Apparently this is a hot topic of culinary debate but eating bucatini in halves is hard enough. Eat it whole with tomato sauce on it, and the eating area in about a 3-feet radius looks like a Pollack painting.
Once the pasta is nearly done (al dente, or chewy if you’re not fancy), I remove it with tongs or a pasta scoop and dump it directly into the sauce. Again we’re thinking combining and sticking flavors here. Once the pasta is in, I ladle a scoop of pasta water in the sauce, crank up the heat to a healthy simmer until the sauce begins to thicken. Time for our “finishers”.
There are some flavors I like to add at the very end so they don’t lose their punch. Yesterday’s butters are a good example. Compound and spirit butters are what I call “finishing” butters. That might be what they’re actually called. I haven’t looked it up to see “if it’s a thing”. Adding them at the end imparts all of the flavors contained in the butter without the risk of them breaking down in the cooking process. Parsley is another finisher for me. I do use it in bulk to cook such things as stock, but in sauces I add it at the very end because it can lose it’s flavor profile quickly. I tossed it until the butter melted. The subtle smell of the smoked paprika started tickling my nostrils and taste buds. I was getting ridiculously giddy about this dinner. I had some freshly ground parmesan set aside and sprinkled that on after plating, along with a little more parsley.
I don’t know what to say except it was so good that we risked burning our mouths time and again because there was no waiting for it to cool down. The smoked paprika elevated an already delightful dish to a whole new level. The bucatini was a little heavy but not as awkward as I anticipated because of the heartiness of the smoked paprika. It was a bowl of heaven and I ate way too much on what was supposed to be a clean eating night.
Our clean nights tend to be kind of the same. I need to roll on over to Cookie & Kate’s site and pull off some new clean eating adventures. Well Plated has some great choices as well. I love clean eating but I love homey and fancy cooking. Which explains the weight struggle. Moderation, moderation, moderation. I’m just not sure how smoked paprika butter fits into that, ha!
I’ll load the recipe as soon as I can. I’m finding it more important to write and share while I build the rest of the site framework. Only so many hours in a day, folks but I’m working on it!
Happy reading, joyful cooking and spread the love!