Italy is heaven. At least, it is in Elizabeth von Arnim’s novel The Enchanted April, which I’m reading for a book club this week. The premise is that four women, who are all processing the ways that life has disappointed them, escape their dreary English lives to vacation in an Italian castle. There, beauty heals them. Disappointments fade. They learn to love again.
Though I do know that the country has had its bleaker moments, I think there’s something about the scenery of the Italian countryside that often calls people to stop and enjoy the present moment. And the same is true of the food: authentic Italian cuisine makes me stop and savor. Many of the authentic Italian recipes I’ve tried are deceptively simple. There’s trust that the ingredients the earth provides can be assembled to make something transcendent.
Penne arrabbiata is one such simple, transcendent dish. The first authentic recipe I tried simply relied on fresh tomatoes, combined with spicy peperoncini and a little garlic, to create a flavorful sauce. I wanted a slightly thicker sauce, so I decided to add tomato paste, as many other arrabbiata recipes call for it. To make the homegrown tomatoes easier to peel, blanch them.
Even though feelings like disappointment and anger fade throughout The Enchanted April, this dish is actually an angry one. Arrabbiata means “angry penne.” Because of this, the Italian-American food blogger behind the blog Memorie di Angelina writes, “Add as much hot pepper as you like. Remember, this dish is not called ‘angry’ penne for nothing!”
- 1 lb penne pasta (such as De Cecco)
- 3 cloves peeled garlic, crushed
- 1 tsp dried crushed red pepper (more if desired)
- 1½ pounds fresh homegrown tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
- ½ cup tomato paste
- Plenty of olive oil (the best you can find!)
- Salt and pepper
- Begin to boil the water for pasta, and add the pasta once the water is ready. Cook al dente according to package directions.
- In a large sauté pan, sauté the garlic in olive oil until it is a honey-brown, add the crushed red pepper, and then immediately remove it from heat. (Don't let any of the ingredients burn.)
- Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Simmer until tomatoes and oil are well combined. Taste to see if the sauce is spicy enough; if not, add more crushed pepper.
- When the pasta is ready, drain it and add it to the sauté pan with the tomatoes. Allow the pasta to sauté for a few minutes on low heat until well combined with the sauce.