Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Penne with sun-dried tomato, red chilli and walnut pesto, rocket and burrata

My day started weird on Monday. I didn’t hear the alarm go off because I was having such an intense dream I didn’t even realize it was going off for over ten minutes before my boyfriend finally woke me up.

I didn’t have time to have breakfast before an appointment with my physiotherapist— I have a sprained arm that hurts like hell, even as I write this now, which I shouldn’t be doing incidentally—, and when I got there, ten minutes early as always (I’m prompt like that), I waited for a good fifteen minutes for my physio to come pick me up. When she finally came down she said my appointment was an hour earlier. I was looking at her with my mouth and eyes wide open. I never make mistakes like that. Turns out I didn’t. She did. I was the one who had to live with it.

I left angry and a little sad because the pain was worse that day. I needed her healing hands.
When I got home, a thousand emails were waiting for me and some bad news from S. I wanted to cry but held back the tears. It wasn’t that I was sad, I was frustrated by the way my day was going. I pressed on. I made a strong cup of espresso, I went through my emails, worked until the afternoon and then I realized I had to make dinner.

On days like these, when I don’t have much time to think let alone plan a meal, I divert to pasta. That savior, always there to make even the worst day feel good. Especially a winter’s day.

Pasta like this one. With a sun-dried tomato, red chilli and walnut pesto, rocket leaves and burrata; another miracle of the Italian cheese world.

The chunky pesto is a fiery one, rendered as such by the hot fresh red chilli, with a musky and deep flavor from the sun-dried tomatoes, umami flavor from the parmesan, pungency from the garlic, nutty earthiness from the walnuts.
It’s strong and robust, with intense flavors; dare I say, the perfect wintertime pesto to color and flavor your pasta. It also adds texture, getting inside the hole and ridges of the penne, filling them, coating them, making the dish utterly delicious.

The burrata brings creaminess and richness and goes well with the pesto as it mellows out its sharp, spicy and hot yet balanced flavors, while the rocket adds pepperiness, freshness and a slight bitterness that’s quite fitting.

Penne with sun-dried tomato, red chilli and walnut pesto, rocket and burrata

Burrata (which means buttery in Italian) is a fresh Italian cheese made from an outer layer of mozzarella that is filled with cream and mozzarella curds that ooze out when you tear it open. It is one of the most spectacular cheeses I have ever eaten particularly because of its super rich, creamy and chewy texture, and its milky, slightly sour and sweet, buttery flavor that is, however, not at all overwhelming.

Adding in the pesto one chilli with its seeds like I did, makes it quite hot, so if you’re not keen on too hot flavors, remove the seeds or add half a chilli, even though this is what really makes the pesto and the dish at large, when it mingles with the rest of the ingredients, bringing it to life.

Casarecce pasta would also be great in this dish as would any other kind of short pasta with holes, ridges or cavities to catch and hold that beautiful pesto.

Yield: 4 servings


for the pesto
50 g sun-dried tomatoes (that’s about 10-11 sun-dried tomato halves), (not the ones kept in oil)
2 garlic cloves
1 large fresh red chilli with seeds, sliced
½ tsp Demerara sugar
25 g walnut halves (heaped ¼ cup)
7 Tbsp (100 ml) extra virgin olive oil
10 g (¼ cup) grated parmesan

for the pasta
500 g small dried penne rigate (with ridges)
2 balls of burrata
4 large handfuls fresh rocket leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
A little extra virgins olive oil to drizzle over the top (optional)

Special equipment: small food processor, rasp grater, colander


for the pesto
In a small skillet or sauté pan add the walnuts and place over a medium heat. Toast them, stirring often so they don’t get burned, until they become fragrant and brown lightly. Transfer them to a small bowl and allow to cool.

Add all the ingredients for the pesto except the parmesan in the food processor and process until you have a coarse mixture. Add the parmesan and process until you have a somewhat chunky pesto. It’s not going to be smooth, it will be grainy, with a nice texture. Set aside.

for the pasta
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil over high heat and add the penne. Cook until al dente (firm but not very hard) or cook to your liking.
Strain the pasta but make sure to keep 5 cups of pasta water, to be on the safe side. It is valuable and will help you adjust the consistency of the sauce.
Return the strained pasta to the pot, add 1 cup of pasta water and then the pesto, but don’t add all the pesto at once, add ½-¾ at first and see how much more it needs. Mix through with a soft rubber spatula being careful not break up the penne. Add as much pasta water needed to loosen the sauce and achieve a creamy and moist consistency. You don’t want the pasta to be dry. Add ¾ of the rocket leaves and stir gently through. You can add more pesto (or pasta water) if you think it needs it.

Serve immediately in individual plates. You can drizzle with a bit of olive oil on top. Then grate a generous amount of parmesan, add a big spoonful of burrata and sprinkle with black pepper and the rest of the rocket leaves.


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