Peperonata con Rigatoni

Update 10/12/10: If you have a little extra time and want to make the peperonata extra silky you might like to take the time to char the skins of the peppers and peel them before slicing. Pop your peppers under a grill or on a gas-burning hob until blackened, then place in a bowl and cover with clingfilm until cool. The skins should just rub off under your fingers – don’t peel them under running water as you’ll lose the lovely charred flavour you’ve imparted in them. This is by no means an essential step, and if you were serving the peperonata as a side dish, or as a topping for crostini (two of its many alternative uses), I wouldn’t bother as the firmer texture you get from the skins is good, but for serving with pasta it makes a real difference.

Peperonata con Rigatoni

A rare one for me – a dish that is not just vegetarian but also vegan-friendly! You could bulk this dish out a little with some tangy salty feta*, but actually it’s one of those rare pasta dishes that really doesn’t need cheese on top. The key is to be bold with the flavours – garlic, chilli and peppers, and to not stint on the olive oil: it adds a luscious taste and texture you just won’t get if you use it miserly.

3 tbsp olive oil
1½ medium onions, sliced
6 garlic cloves, finely sliced
200g passata
4 peppers (red, orange or yellow), sliced into strips
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1½ tsp. capers
Basil leaves, a small handful
300-400g rigatoni (depending on how hungry you all are!)

On a medium heat, soften the onions with the olive oil in a large high-sided frying pan. Add the sliced garlic and sweat gently for a minute or two. Add the passata and season generously with salt and pepper. Stir well. Add the peppers and chilli flakes and turn gently to mix without breaking up the pepper strips. Pop a lid on and cook on a medium heat for 20mins, stirring once or twice (again do so gently – you don’t want pepper-mush).

Meanwhile, get a large pot of water on to the boil and salt it generously. Cook the rigatoni in the salted water, according to the packet instructions.

After the peperonata has had its 20mins covered simmer, add the red wine vinegar, taste it for seasoning, and allow it to cook for a further 10minutes with the lid off. Turn off the heat and add the capers (well drained if in brine, rinsed if in oil), and the basil. Drain the pasta and toss with the pepper sauce. Serves 4.

*If you choose this option, I’d recommend the ‘unearthed’ brand of barrel-aged Greek feta, or your nearest cheese shop’s own traditional feta – this recipe won’t benefit from the cheap polystyrene sold as feta in your local one-stop shop or all-night grocers.


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