Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pasta Al Pomodoro - or, the end of the reign of V8

When Daniel finally got himself established on solid foods I decided to try feeding him pasta. I figured he couldn't choke on it and who doesn't like pasta? (Turns out Patrick, my second son. Not a great pasta lover. However he likes mashed potatoes where Daniel does not. Who doesn't like mashed potatoes? But I digress.) My decision to introduce pasta was likely an excuse for me to buy a package of the cute alphabet-shaped pasta that caught my eye at the grocery store. I know that a lot of kids are introduced to pasta with a bit of butter or Parmesan cheese for flavour but I decided to go the traditional 'red sauce' route for Daniel and served him his first bowl of pasta drenched in V8 juice. I think I figured that the addition of the V8 juice would count as a serving of vegetables. It was a raging success. In the last seven and a half years he must have eaten a hundred.....zillion bowls of alphabet pasta.

The only downside to V8 pasta is that Daniel refused to budge on this choice of pasta sauce for the and a half years. So when I make spaghetti, instead of eating the perfectly respectable sauce I've made he'll ask for a V8. When we go to a restaurant he'll order spaghetti, no sauce, with a side of V8. Which can take some explaining, particularly if your waiter is childless and has no context for the food rituals and/or obsessions of small children. Over the years we have tried to persuade Daniel to break from his V8 habit and try other kinds of pasta sauce (still in the tomato family - we aren't looking for miracles here). He has resisted. Or he had resisted, up until last night.  Last night I made Pasta Al Pomodoro.

What attracted me to this recipe was its simplicity, both of ingredients and method. All that is required is a can of peeled, whole tomatoes, some onion, garlic and basil. Pasta, of course is also a given (I went with spaghetti) and you need some grated Parmesan cheese and butter to finish things off. You start your sauce by heating up some olive oil and gently sauteing some minced onion in a large skillet. Once the onions are soft you add in the garlic. The tomatoes get pureed in your food processor (or blender, since I am sadly without a food processor) and added to the lovely onion/garlic combo, which can be taken up a notch with the addition of some red pepper flakes, which I omitted. The sauce bubbles away so the flavours can meld and you can cook your pasta. That's pretty much it. You've made your sauce.

Once the pasta is ready, it gets added to the bubbling sauce (still in the skillet) along with the Parmesan and butter. (There's a whole step about fresh basil leaves that takes place as well. I used dried basil, adding it near the end of the whole 'sauce bubbles away' stage. I'm sure the fresh basil would also be lovely.) Dust with more grated Parmesan and there you have it. In the time it takes to open a can of V8 you have a lovely (kid friendly) tomato sauce. Okay. It might have taken a bit longer than that but you get the idea. This dish doesn't take long and the result is worth the bit of effort and having to clean the blender.

Obviously my favourite part of this dish is that Daniel loved it. He did have his traditional bowl of pasta with V8 but conceded to try my version as well. After a taste he asked for his own helping of 'grown up spaghetti'. Definitely a recipe I'll be adding to my regular rotation.

Pasta Al Pomodoro - from Epicurious

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 28 ounce can peeled tomatoes, puréed in a food processor
Kosher salt
3 large fresh basil sprigs
12 ounces bucatini or spaghetti
2 tablespoons cubed unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino

Heat extra-virgin olive oil in a 12" skillet over medium-low heat. Add minced onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about 12 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 2-4 minutes. Add crushed red pepper flakes; cook for 1 minute more. Increase heat to medium, add puréed tomatoes and season lightly with kosher salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly and the flavors meld, about 20 minutes. Remove pan from heat, stir in basil sprigs, and set aside. 

Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in a 5-quart pot. Season with salt; add spaghetti or bucatini and cook, stirring occasionally, until about 2 minutes before tender. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking water.
Discard basil and heat skillet over high heat. Stir in reserved pasta water to loosen sauce (this didn't seem necessary); bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring, until sauce coats pasta and pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat; add butter and cheese; toss until cheese melts. Transfer to warm bowls; serve with more cheese, if desired.

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