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The way things become trendy—when something that’s always been there is suddenly on everyone’s lips—always surprises me. Take argan oil from Morocco: Something my grandmother used to use on both her salads and on her skin is now the it expensive product. She’s feeling pretty cool right now.
Also cool is Piment d’Espelette, but it’s hard to come by and is expensive, even in France (in cooking school, we were just allowed a knifepoint of the stuff). This Basque dried chili has a delayed and gentle heat that hits you after you expect it to—which, aside from being spicy, makes it exciting and delightful. But maybe that’s just the trend talking—I’ve been swept up too. I’m seeing it in tomato sauces (the pairing with the tannic sweetness of tomatoes is excellent), broths for fish, even in ketchup. You can find Piment d’Espelette in the States at gourmet stores. If you see it, buy it; you will find a million and one uses for it (I also add it to mayonnaise, aïoli, or rouille), and you will be one of the “in” crowd (insert wink).
This recipe combines summer fresh tomatoes stewed to a sauce with Espelette. Studded with garlic and shallots and laced with whole leaves of basil and mint, it’s a fun departure from a regular ol’ pomodoro. The best part is you can serve it room temperature almost as a salad at a summer picnic.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 shallots, diced
- 2 big cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon Piment d’Espelette
- 12 vine ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded, and puréed
- Kosher salt
- 20 leaves of mint
- 20 leaves basil
- 2 pounds penne rigate
NOTE: To peel tomatoes, core them, and draw an X in the skin at the bottom of the tomato with the tip of a sharp paring knife. Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds, then shock in very cold water. Peel the skin away from the flesh. Cut the tomatoes in half, and squeeze the seeds out of the flesh. Put the tomato flesh in a food processor, and blitz till smooth.
In a medium saucepot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and sauté, stirring often, until soft and fragrant: about 3 minutes. Add the Piment d’Espelette and stir into the hot oil. Add the tomato flesh purée, season well with salt, and cook on medium heat, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Add the mint and basil leaves, and simmer on low heat for a final 15 minutes.
While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. When the sauce has about 10 minutes left, drop the penne into the water, and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, and add the penne and the sauce to the larger of the two pots, and cook together on medium-low heat, stirring continuously, for another minute or two, until the pasta absorbs some of the sauce. Serve right away.
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