Pasta Puttanesca

The next course after the charred octopus was Chef Marcus’ take on Pasta Puttanesca.    Puttanesca can be loosely translated to “spicy like a prostitute” and most puttenesca sauces are spicy.    Chef Marcus switched it up a bit with his rendition.

(This post is the next installment of our Modern Italian Cuisine Cooking Class with Chef Marcus Vause of Tavolo.)

Instead of making the sauce spicy, Chef Marcus made the pasta itself spicy.

Harissa Pasta
From Chef Marcus Vause of Tavolo

2 c. semolina flour
1 t. salt
2 t. Harissa chile paste
3/4 c. warm water

Place semolina in mixing bowl large enough to hold all ingredients.   Add salt, water and chile paste.   Stir with a fork to combine mixture.   Once liquids have been absorbed, begin to knead dough by hand thoroughly for 5 minutes to develop gluten.

Shape dough into a disc and cover with plastic wrap.   Let dough rest for 30 minutes before rolling into your favorite shape.

Chef Marcus likes to use semolina flour because it has more gluten in it which aids with the sauce sticking to the pasta.   He was adamant about one thing:  DO NOT RINSE PASTA for that will remove the gluten and allow the sauce to slip off.   (Is this why I am sometimes served a plate of watery pasta, sitting in a bowl of liquid?)    He advocates mixing the dough in a bowl as opposed the “the old grandma way of making pasta” by making a flour well and mixing in the liquid on a kneading board.   “It is too messy.”

He put the dough through the pasta making attachment of a Kitchen Aide mixer.   He says that is all he uses at his restaurants and that it works great.  Although he has gone through a few mixers, the attachment is still going strong.   (Of course, all the pasta at Tavolo will be made in house.)

The harissa added just the right amount of heat.   Chef Marcus described harissa as the North African version of Sriracha and he passed around some of the harissa paste for us to smell.   I thought it was a bit more vinegary than Sriracha.    I am eager to try this recipe for pasta with Sriracha instead and perhaps pair it with a peanut sauce.

Mounds of homemade pasta.

Mounds of homemade pasta.

Chef Marcus said he learned all about tomatoes and sauce from an “Italian gentleman.”    He stated that you can be “all about fresh and local” but sometimes canned is best.    Unless you’re growing and picking your own tomatoes at the peak of ripeness and then making a sauce immediately, he advocates using San Marzano canned tomatoes.   (He even says that domestically grown San Marzanos taste different than those grown in Italy—hence the use of canned Italian tomatoes.)    He used Cento brand because they can the tomatoes in a tomato puree as well, not just water.

There really isn’t a recipe for his sauce.  Simply saute some onions in olive oil and then puree the onions with the canned tomatoes.   Don’t cook the sauce beyond sauteing the onions.      The sauce is watery but when tossed with the pasta (and this is where the gluten factor comes in) it creates a creamy pasta dish.

Pasta sauce.

Pasta sauce.

He passed this sample around so we could see just how thin it was, but this sauce had the freshest, most flavorful taste.

I apologize profusely for not having a picture of the finished dish.   It was beautiful, garnished with fried capers tossed in bread crumbs and two huge olives.

It wasn’t until I had polished it off that I realized I had not documented its existence with a photo.   You will just have to trust me on how beautiful and delicious it was.

What’s up next from Chef Marcus?    Chicken Saltimbocca with Caponata

(To see every course so far, click here.)

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