Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Orecchiette Pasta with Brussels Sprouts, Mushrooms & Red Chili Pepper

On a gray and rainy Saturday afternoon we wandered into a favored local Italian eatery for some late lunch/early dinner fare... something hearty enough to get us through the remainder of the evening but not so heavy that we wouldn’t welcome the thought of sitting through a three-hour movie afterward. A version of this orecchiette pasta was ordered, times two, and devoured despite one eater’s thoughts that it might have been a touch too salty. As I could drink the ocean, I had no issue with its seasoning.

Deceiving in its simplicity and mix of humble ingredients... delicate shavings of brussels sprouts sautéed with a bit of garlic and a few calabrian chiles... it was surprisingly flavorful. And given my growing penchant for just about anything to do with brussels sprouts, a welcome new option for this bright little brassica.

While I had no issue with the seasoning, I did have a couple of thoughts on the meal we enjoyed. One was that it would be great with a little added protein thrown in... some roasted chicken, perhaps, or a good pop of sautéed mushrooms… yum. And the other was that the use of chiles for heat (and flavor) was genius. The chili component in this pasta is what truly takes it out of what might otherwise be Dullsville. Yet, instead of the calabrian chiles used in the pasta this was inspired by... chunks of which we continued to grapple with throughout our meal... too much, too little?... I opted for a generous sprinkle of crushed red chili pepper... providing the same (or better) pop of heat and zest with nary a sight of its source. And, keeping it meatless, went with a golden sauté of cremini mushrooms in the mix.

Besides the fact that this comes together so easily, in less than 30 minutes, it could easily be enjoyed as a side veggie without the pasta... the mix is that good!

It’s the perfect nestle-in-on-a-rainy day comfort food... hearty, flavorful, and satisfying without being heavy… and very movie friendly.

Orecchiette Pasta with Brussels Sprouts, Mushrooms & Red Chile Pepper
Serves four

The crushed red chili in this recipe provides such a great pop of heat and flavor to this pasta that it’s appealing on its very own... sans parmesan cheese for those non-dairy eaters.

¾ pound orecchiette pasta
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onion (about ½ large onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon vegan buttery spread (for non-dairy eaters), or salt-free butter
3 to 4 cups sliced cremini mushrooms (about 1/2 pound mushrooms, halved, then sliced)
4 cups shaved brussels sprouts (about 1 pound sprouts, trimmed, halved and shaved*)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon red chili pepper (crushed red pepper flakes), more to taste

* A food processor fitted with the slicer/shredder attachment makes quick work of shaving Brussels sprouts; here they are trimmed and halved before being run through the processor.

Cook pasta al dente, according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onion, sauté for about 1 to 2 minutes, until just slightly translucent. Add garlic to onion, sauté for 30 to 60 seconds and then add “butter” and mushrooms. Increase heat to medium high and sauté mix, stirring intermittently, until mushrooms appear lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Add brussels sprouts , salt, pepper, and chili. Sauté until sprouts wilt just slightly, about 2 to 3 minutes. Adjust seasonings, to taste. Remove from heat.

Drain cooked pasta and add to brussels sprouts mixture. Toss lightly to combine. Serve immediately.

Serve with additional crushed red chili pepper to sprinkle over pasta, as preferred.

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