Friday, November 12, 2010

Cold Comfort

No, I haven't resorted to eating pasta cold out of the fridge. Rather, I have a cold and seem to be craving the comfort of pasta. This cold seems also to have stimulated my improvisational gene - I've been trying all kinds of weird combinations.

This one was the best so far. Italian sausage and rehydrated wild mushrooms from the big bag I brought home from Cape Cod in a rich, garlicky, tomato sauce dotted with garbanzo beans. Oh, and the Secret Ingredient.

I used all the usual Italian indicators - garlic, basil, red wine - but improvised with the Secret Ingredient - a tablespoon or two of espresso powder to darken the flavors. It was molto bene! So good, in fact, that I plan to use espresso powder in all my tomato pasta dishes from now on.

The fragrance elicited memories of passing coffee houses on Italian streets on a hot day, when I was sixteen and young men called after me as I passed on the street, declaring undying love and devotion, if only I would stop and chat. Holding their hands over their hearts or out in supplication, their shiny dark curls glistening in the sun, their sincerity was compelling, if fleeting. When, scandalized and secretly thrilled, I didn't stop, the next girl who came along got the same treatment.

But, when you are feeling very sorry for yourself, both because your head is all stuffed up and because you didn't stop and chat all those years ago, this pasta brings some small comfort.

Cold Comfort Pasta

1 mild Italian sausage (or you can use spicy, if you prefer), about 8-10 inches long
6 cloves of garlic, diced finely
olive oil
1 can fire-roasted chopped tomatoes
1 can whole peeled tomatoes
2 cups red wine, divided
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 Tablespoons dried basil
a handful of mixed, dried wild mushrooms rehydrated in one cup of the red wine
2 Tablespoons freeze-dried espresso coffee powder
Your favorite pasta - I like capellini
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Green onions, sliced

Immerse the dried mushrooms in one cup of the wine and leave to rehydrate, perhaps half an hour. When the mushrooms are softened, in a wide pan heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium-high heat and squeeze the sausage out of its casing, dropping about 12 one-inch meatballs into the hot oil. When the meatballs have browned on one side, turn them over and add the garlic. Watch carefully - you don't want the garlic to burn. When the garlic is fragrant and softened, add the tomatoes (chop or squish the whole ones with your hands), the second cup of wine, the mushrooms now softened and the wine in which they rehydrated and the rest of the ingredients. Cook over low flame for about 15-20 minutes. Serve over your favorite pasta, topped with fresh green onions and grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 4-6.

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