Pasta Primer: Fettuccine

2009 December: Pasta PrimerThis is the time of year that many of us (especially those of us living in the Midwest) go bananas over fresh tomatoes. If I had the time, I would write another cookbook called “101 Ways to Use Fresh Tomatoes.”

So this time of year I am constantly coming up with new ways to use fresh tomatoes. And when I do so, my ideas seem to come in bunches of threes, as in three ingredients. In this instance it happens to be pasta, tomatoes and arugula –– the pasta being fettuccine, the tomatoes, being fresh plum or Roma, and the greens being arugula. I really like the way that the flavors complement each other: the peppery bite of the arugula balancing against the sweetness of the fresh tomatoes. Throw a balsamic vinaigrette into that mix (along with the pasta, of course) and you end up with a dish that is pure flavor harmony.

You don’t absolutely need to use fettuccine, but the thicker cut of this pasta balances nicely with the other ingredients. Thick spaghetti can be used and, if you can find it, a cut of pasta known as malfadine (a fl at, ribbon-shaped pasta with wavy edges) works equally well.

A couple of thoughts about the arugula: try to buy it with bigger leaves (as opposed to baby arugula, which can be mostly stems), because it holds up better when gentle heat is applied. On the other hand, I will give you an option: if arugula is not your thing (or if it is too costly), substitute with baby spinach. Either way you go, I believe that the simple goodness of this dish will please your customers. 

Fettuccine with Fresh Tomatoes & Arugula
Serves 4-6
(Scale up in direct proportion)

¾ cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup chopped red onions
8 ripe tomatoes (about 3 pounds) cored, seeded, cut into bite-size pieces
1½ cups tightly packed, chopped or torn, arugula
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 pound fettuccine
1 cup grated Parmesan

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar and olive oil. Add the garlic, onion, tomatoes and arugula. Add salt and pepper. (The recipe can be made to this point and held at room temperature for several hours.)

Cook the pasta until it is perfectly al dente. Drain well. Working quickly, add the pasta to the tomato and arugula mixture. Toss to combine. Divide the pasta into serving portions. Top each portion with an equal amount of Parmesan cheese.

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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