Friday, December 7, 2012

Linguica and Escarole Cheesy Penne

Pasta is wonderful any day of the week or any time of day.  It is interesting, because, while I grew up loving my mother's spaghetti, I never really knew about nor "liked" other pastas.  My family was not "big" into pastas, therefore, we never frequented our local Italian restaurants.  As an adult, however, especially over the last eight years, I have become a pasta hound.  I LOVE pasta; ALL of them!  I love to shop for unusual, traditional pasta that most people have never heard of unless they grew up in an Italian family who used traditional pasta. I thoroughly enjoy learning about different pastas and how they "work", how they attract and allow sauces to "cling" to them, as well as how to serve them.  And unless I am careful to use whole wheat pastas, which I used for this dish, moderation is a must for me. 
Normally, if I were cooking for friends, I would have plated this dish 'familia' style, in a large serving bowl, but I was cooking for myself, for lunch today, as well as to freeze for future lunches at work next week, ergo the photo of the small plate.  Here's the starting line up:

1/2 large red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated, plus one clove, crushed, to flavor the evoo for saute'  
2 - 3 large links smoked Linguica, sliced into discs
1 head escarole, thoroughly washed, chopped
2 sprigs (about 12 large leaves) fresh basil, chopped or torn, halved into two parts
4 tablespoons Italian seasoning, separated
salt and pepper
*1 tiny pinch of Saffron threads  (smells Amazing!)
2 tablespoons dried oregano, halved  (or two sprigs fresh oregano, finely chopped, separated
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, separated into two parts
4 tabs of butter, halved 
1 pound or box of whole wheat penne pasta (or, your favorite pasta)
1 28 ounce can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
2 14.5 ounce cans of fire roasted tomatoes (unless you make your own)
       *Because I was making a large batch for several individual servings, I added more tomato based products for the sauce than I would have if serving family style one time. 

Because I turned this into another one of my "bakes" for individual servings, I preheated the oven to 350-degrees.  If you plan to serve this family-style, you can skip that step and the steps for placing the pasta and sauce mixture in a baking pan with the extra cheeses. 

Add two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to a high-sided dutch oven or pot over medium-low heat.  Add the crushed clove of garlic to flavor the oil.  Slice the linguica and set aside.  On a separate cutting board and with another or a thoroughly cleaned sharp culinary knife, chop the escarole coarsely after pulling the unusable outer leaves.  Set aside in a large bowl.  Next, finely chop the halved red onion and finely chop or grate the remaining garlic cloves.  

Add the linguica to the pan and saute until a crust forms around the rounded edges. Add the onion to the pan when the linguica crusts a little, and saute for about five to seven minutes, until it begins to soften.  You could add salt to help the onions sweat, but the linguica has a high sodium content, however, so salt should not be necessary.  Add the garlic as the onions begin to sweat and saute for another few minutes until the onions start to look translucent.  

Add the tomato-based products (however much you decide, based on how you are serving this dish) and incorporate into the aromatics and linguica.  Bring to a simmer and add one part of the Italian seasoning, a tab or two of butter, fresh cracked black pepper (and, OK, If you have to, a pinch of salt), half of the fresh basil and crush half of the oregano between the palms of your hands for optimum flavor. In addition, Now is the time to add the Saffron!  About fifteen minutes before serving, repeat this step, less the Saffron,  to add even more amazing Italian flavor. 

Bring the water to a boil, in the meantime, to a large pot, adding salt liberally the water boils.  Add the pound of pasta and cook until al dente, about eight to twelve minutes ( see directions on the box or bag), stirring frequently to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot.  When done, save a good large cup of the pasta water, drain the pasta and let sit to drain for a moment.  

Back on the stove, over medium-high heat, add the cup of pasta water to the pot, the tab of butter, and the remaining evoo, and a pinch of salt.  Add the escarole to the pot to begin the wilting process.  Add the pasta to the pot over the escarole and let it sit for about two minutes. This allows insulates the escarole and begins the wilting process. Then stir, incorporating the mixture well.  Add the pasta to the sauce and thoroughly mix together. 

From here, it is up to you.  You can either plate now and add fresh grated parmigiano reggiano and sprinkle with basil, or maybe finely chopped fresh Italian flat-leafed parsley.  

If you are going to for the individual serving and saving the rest, save a couple of cups of sauce off to the side, and when you combine the pasta and escarole with the linguica and sauce, add a good handful of grated parm, a handful of mozzarella  and mix well.  Spray the bottom and sides of a high-sided  baking pan, add a the sauce you have set aside.  Pour the mixture over the sauce, spread evenly with a spatula or wooden spoon, sprinkle with more fresh grate parm, and bake for 30 minutes. 

Remove, let cool for about ten minutes, and serve.  When cooled a bit further, you can easily cut out squares to place in containers for freesing that will hold together pretty well.  

Either way, enjoy this flavorful dish!