orecchiette with potatoes and arugula

August 2, 2013 § 33 Comments

I could not be happier about this pasta recipe.   Years ago, on a number of occasions I frequented an Italian restaurant called La Vecchia Verace and was so enamored by this particular pasta dish.  I ordered it every time I visited.  Occasionally I think about this pasta and living hundreds of miles away from La Vecchia Verace showing up is not an option.  Having said that, the other day I was thumbing through a pasta cookbook “Four Seasons Pasta” by Janet Fletcher and there it was, a recipe for my favorite pasta dish served at La Vecchia Verace restaurant!

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This sauce is garden fresh and the end result is a texturally thick somewhat starchy bowl of summer comfort.  Potatoes are boiled in with the pasta until al dente and gently tossed in a fresh tomato sauce with wilted arugula.  The potatoes break up just enough to nicely coat the orecchiette.   In this cookbook I learned how to use fresh grated roma tomatoes to create a thick, tasty sauce. Roma’s are used because of their high proportion of flesh to juice and they are grated to produce a skinless, seedless pulp.   A considerable alternative using fresh tomatoes while in season, rather than open a can of puréed tomatoes.

To grate tomatoes,  cut the tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds and juice with your fingers.  Holding the cut side of a tomato half against the grater’s holes,  grate until only the thin skin remains in your palm.

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Here is a bit of useful information. I read this recently in a Bon Appetit article: “Don’t dump the pasta water. Starchy, salty pasta water is the secret ingredient in most sauces. Scoop out some of the cloudy water (it’s supposed to look like that) with a coffee mug or measuring cup, and pour a few splashes into the sauce. Save the rest; you might need more than you’d expect. Then simmer until the water and oil emulsify and begin to form a slightly creamy sauce. It’s a little like deglazing a pan with stock or wine, a simple step that gives a dish body and flavor.”

For this recipe reserve a cup or two of the pasta water before draining and use it after tossing with the sauce to help the sauce adhere to the pasta.  It brings the flavors together and helps moisten the pasta without adding more oil.

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I n g r e d i e n t s

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • tablespoon hot pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 pounds ripe roma tomatoes, grated
  • salt
  • 6 ounces (large handful) arugula, coarsely chopped
  • 1 pound russet potatoes, peeled, 1/2 inch diced
  • 1 pound orecchiettte
  • freshly grated grana padano or parmesan

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over moderate heat.  Add the garlic and hot pepper flakes and cook for about 1 minute to release the garlic fragrance.  Add the tomatoes and salt to taste.  Cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes soften and become sauce-like, 15 to 20 minutes, adding water if the tomatoes threaten to cook dry.  Stir the arugula into the sauce and cook just until it wilts, about one minute (once the pasta is al dente).

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the potatoes and pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente.  Set aside at least one cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and potatoes and return them to the warm pot over low heat.  Add the sauce and stir gently to avoid breaking up the potatoes.  Moisten with some of the reserved pasta water as needed.  Divide among warm bowls, top with freshly grated grana padano and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

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