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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Come To My Window

Puttana: Itlalian slang meaning whore.  Pasta Puttanesca: Whore's Pasta.  There are many stories disputing the origin of the name. Some say pasta puttanesca was prepared by Italian prostitutes because it was quick and could easily be thrown together between customers. Others believe that the common Italian pantry ingredients involved with making puttanesca alleviated the need and distraction for the ladies of the evening to shop for food. The most common story (my favorite) is that the hard working girls placed  hot steaming bowls of pasta puttanesca on their window sills hoping to lure in passing  potential clientele with wafting intoxicating aromas.

Whatever its origin, I adore pasta puttanesca.  There are many methods for preparing it, but the ingredients  remain constant; anchovies, garlic, chili flakes, olives, olive oil, tomatoes, and pasta. Like any good working girl, I had the ingredients in my pantry.

I thought about tossing cooked pasta in a raw sauce using  gorgeous  heirloom "seconds" from  Raggard Creekside Farm. With Michael out of town on business a few nights ago, I knew I had the luxury of time to putter around the kitchen, so 
I decided to slow roast the tomatoes to intensify their flavors, blend them with fish stock, and serve the pasta puttanesca with fresh mussels from Charlie's Seafood.

I quartered the tomatoes, drizzled them with olive oil, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and slid them into a 325 dregree oven to roast until they collapsed, caramelized, and charred,  about 45 minutes. 

Surprisingly, I didn't have fish stock, but knew I had a bag of shrimp shells tucked under a bag of chicken backs, so I pulled the shrimp shells from the freezer and made a simple stock. After filling a small stock pot 3/4 full, I dropped the shells into the cold water along with peppercorns, onions, parsley, thyme, and chervil. I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, skimmed the scum, and let it bubble away until it reduced by half, creating an intense shrimp flavored stock.
I strained the stock into a blender, added the roasted tomatoes, and pureed them into a lovely shellfish tomato-based sauce.

With all the separate components in place (mise en place), I cranked a skillet to high and sauteed chili-flecked anchovie filets until they melted into the oil before adding thinly sliced candy onions and minced garlic.  When the onions and garlic caramelized, I deglazed the pan with white wine, letting it reduce by half before tossing in a handful of un-pitted picholine black olives and drained capers.

Just before the wine completely evaporated, I added the tomato sauce and brought it to a boil before tumbling 2 pounds of cleaned mussels into the spurting sauce. I reduced the heat, covered the pan, and let the mussels steam open, releasing their juices into the sauce. When the last mussel opened, I added 1/2 pound of under-cooked spaghetti to the bubbling sauce, gave it a stir, and allowed the spaghetti to absorb the sauce while it finished cooking.

I twirled piled the pasta puttanesca into a very large pasta bowl and haphazzardly scattered the mussels around the pasta.  Because I simply couldn't leave well enough alone, I drizzled the plump mussels with a decadent Sriracha lemon chive butter.

 Gratutious fresh parsely finished it off.

Ok.  So, here's the deal. The pasta puttanesca had a lot going on. It was complex, deeply flavored, multi layered, and fun. The intensly sweet slow-roasted tomato sauce was a heavenly mellow canvas for the al dent spaghetti,  pungent garlic, briny soft olives, biting chili peppers, and tangy capers. The mussels, bathed in Sriracha butter, were plump, tender, and ridiculous. Using  the emptied mussel shells as tiny spoons, I slurped the squirting mussels, mixing their juices with the fiery Sriracha lemon-spiked butter. I couldn't stop eating them. And didn't. 

With no bread to sop,
I licked my bowl completely clean until my shiny lips burned.


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