Weekly Winner:  The Strangest (and possibly best) Pasta to Date

So, have you ever seen a recipe and thought:  “I can’t even begin to imagine what this might taste like…. I’m going to make it and see!”?  No?  Maybe that’s just me, but that is exactly what happened when I came across this recipe a month or so ago in Food and Wine Magazine.

Rigatoni with Cabbage and Creme Fraiche — I mean it just sounds strange… creamy cabbage…. and pasta….. and pumpernickel???  Of course the saving grace was that I saw bacon listed as an ingredient.  I know I’m safe if it has bacon.

I did still have my doubts.  I’m generally not a fan of overly-cooked cabbage.  I love coleslaw and stir-frys that have cabbage that is cooked quickly, but thinly shredded cabbage cooked for 8 minutes?  That’s approaching cabbage abuse!  But I have a rule.  The first time I try a recipe I follow it to the letter (unless it calls for cilantro)  after that, I’m permitted to tinker.

So, what did I think of this concoction?  In a word: Fabulous!  It really was amazingly good.  Hubby and I both immediately thought it would be a great with a soft-cooked egg on top but couldn’t imagine why we both came to that conclusion.  Then it hit us.  The cabbage became almost leek-like and the final product really reminded us of a version of carbonara we both like.  Bacon, cream, “leeks” pasta…. it all suddenly made sense.  And also made a dang fine dinner.

So, now that I’ve made it as prescribed, is there anything I’d change?  Well, the egg is a definite possibility, but I also think it would be better (or at least easier to shovel in your mouth) with a shorter, smaller pasta.  The size of the rigatoni was a bit unwieldy considering the rest of the ingredients.  Other than that I wouldn’t change a thing and anticipate making this often….. very often.

Rigatoni with Cabbage and Creme Fraiche

Serves 4

Ingredients:

8 oz. pumpernickel bread, torn into pieces (3 cups)

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and black pepper

4 oz thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 small onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

1 head of Savoy cabbage (1-1/2 lbs) shredded

2 cups chicken stock

1 lb. rigatoni

1/2 cup creme fraiche

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving

Procedure:

  1. In a food processor, pulse the bread until coarse crumbs form.  In a skillet, melt the butter in 2 Tbsp of the olive oil.  Add the breadcrumbs and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8 minutes.  Season with salt
  2. In a large straight-sided skillet, heat the remaining 1 Tbsp of olive oil.  Add the bacon and cook over moderate heat until crisp; transfer to paper towels to drain.  Add the onion, garlic and crushed red pepper to the skillet and cook until the onion is softened, about 2 minutes.  Add the cabbage and stock and bring to a simmer.  Cook, stirring, until almost all of the stock has evaporated, 8 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente.  Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water.  Toss the pasta with the cabbage.  Stir in the creme fraiche, the 1/2 cup of cheese and, if necessary, the reserved pasta water; season with salt and black pepper.  Transfer the pasta to bowls and garnish with the breadcrumbs, bacon and black pepper.  Serve with additional cheese on the side.
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