Sunday, 27 June 2010

Pasta Loves Peppers

Noodles are the ultimate comfort food. So versatile, they can carry the flavours of any cuisine proudly. In the winter a slow cooked sauce with tender noodles can warm your spirits, but in the summer I like to pair them with garden veggies and bright flavours. One of my favourite summer veggies is the red pepper. Green peppers have their place but the sweetness of the ripe red pepper brings summery happiness to my heart. Between the baskets of fresh summer peppers and the giant jars of roasted red peppers, I am never without.
Here are two delicious pasta and red pepper pairings, starting with Pasta with Red Pepper Hummus, which can be served warm but is also perfect for a summer meal on the patio, at room temperature. It is also perfect to present for Souper Sundays, Kahakai Kitchen's weekly celebration of Soups, Salads, and Sammies. Deb is the healthy-eating angel on my shoulder and I am sure these recipes will delight her.

Pasta with Red Pepper Hummus
Pasta East to West, A Vegetarian World Tour, Nava Atlas
4-6 servings
This makes a good picnic dish-it's sturdy and quite good at room temperature.

10 ounces rotini, gemelli, or penne, or any short pasta shape
1 16-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp ground cumin
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed, or 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, with liquid
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, or to taste
2 to 3 scallions, minced

Cook the pasta in plenty of rapidly simmering water until al dente, then drain.

Meanwhile, combine the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, cumin, and garlic in a food processor. Add half of the red peppers along with all their liquid, and reserve the remaining red peppers. Process until the mixture is completely smooth. If it's too thick, add a small amount of water to thin.

Chop the reserved red peppers into fairly short, narrow strips. Combine them in a large serving bowl with the pasta, sauce, parsley, and scallions. Toss well and serve.

Note: When reheating leftovers, add a small amount of water, as the sauce thickens as it stands.

These recipes are from a great little book, Pasta East to West, that has a diverse range of vegetarian pasta dishes inspired by countries and flavours from all around the world.
Everyone loves pasta - this book will help you expand your veggie pasta repertoire with dishes such as Singapore-Style Rice Noodles with Tofu (with both a yellow curry and red curry recipe), Tomato-Tortellini Soup, Mixed Mushroom Stroganoff, Sweet and Sour Noodles with Tempeh and Vegetables, Vegetable Lo Mein, Mexican Sopa Seca De Fideo (Vermicelli "Dry Soup"), Lukschen Kugel (Jewish Sweet Noodle Pudding) and also includes a final chapter on Partners for Pasta and Noodles: Simple Sides and Salads.

Nava Atlas is the author of many vegetarian books, including Vegetariana, Vegetarian Celebrations, Vegan Express, Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons, you can learn more about her and her books on her website, In a Vegetarian Kitchen.

Pasta East to West is 7x8, 224 pages

Herbed Orzo-Stuffed Bell Peppers
Pasta East to West, A Vegetarian World Tour, Nava Atlas
4 servings
Stuffed bell peppers are high on my list of comfort foods. Italian Artichoke and Asparagus Frittata (page 188) is a good accompaniment, along with a colorful mixed salad.

2 cups strong vegetable stock, or 2 cups water with 1 vegetable bouillon cube, or 1 15-ounce can vegetable broth
1 scant cup orzo or rosa marina (rice-shaped pasta)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large celery stalk, finely diced
1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs (see note)
1 cup frozen petite green peas, thawed
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp basil
1/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 medium green or red bell peppers, or two of each

Bring the stock to a simmer in a large saucepan. Stir in the orzo and simmer steadily until the water is absorbed, about 12 minutes. The orzo should be al dente, but if not tender enough, add another 1/3 cup water, and simmer until it is absorbed.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the onion, garlic, and celery, and sauté over medium heat until the mixture is golden. Stir in the bread crumbs, peas, and herbs, and continue to sauté for 5 minutes more, stirring. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then remove from the heat. (Add orzo)

Carefully cut a thin slice off the top of each bell pepper to remove the stem. Cut a very thin slice off the bottom of each pepper so that they will stand more steadily. Rinse the inside of each bell pepper to remove excess seeds.

Divide the orzo mixture among the peppers. Place them in a small baking dish in which they will stand securely. Cover with a lid or loosely with foil. Bake until the peppers are just tender, about 30-40 minutes. (in a preheated oven at 350F)

Note: to make fresh bread crumbs, simply place 2 slices of soft whole grain bread in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process until the bread is reduced to fine crumbs.

These were lots of fun and totally yummy. They would also be great with some cheese if you eat it, maybe a Parmesan or pecorino romano. I baked mine laying down as they were rather elongated peppers. Have fun with your food!