Story and photographs by Tom Weber
Have you ever glanced across the room in a restaurant and seen someone at another table engrossed in a business lunch? The poor frontline employee is talking frantically on an iPhone with someone back at the office while simultaneously crunching sales projections on an iPad as his/her regional manager, waiting impatiently, strums his/her fingers on the table and remarks, “Well?”
Non è una problema per me (It’s not a problem for me). Today, I’m throwing away the gadgets and having lunch, virtually, with the late, great tenor-of-all-tenors, Luciano Pavarotti. “The King of the High C’s” and I have all the time in the world, just like the length of one his operas.
In between arias, we’ll lunch on a simple concoction I’ve whipped up in the kitchen many times before.
It’s a quick-‘n’-easy, Lazy Person’s pasta recipe featuring penne rigate (cylinder shaped, furrowed “quills”), grilled peperoni (bell peppers) and a handful of Greek black olives, or: Penne con Peperoni e Olive Nero. For lunch, it’s one of my favorite go-to dishes and plates in less than 30 min., OR YOU DON’T PAY. Not bad for “slow food.”
More often than not, Italians – of ALL ages – enjoy a plate of pasta at pranzo (lunch) vice cena(dinner). Admittedly, pasta, in all its variety, is one of the heavier dishes of la cucina Italiana and best served as part of the midday meal.
Whenever I wing it in the galley, I always have music playing in the background, appropriate for the dish I’m attempting to create or recreate, to keep me focused and in the right mood.
I love the sound of musica classica, and it marries well with the Italian fare that I routinely – and miraculously – whip together.
With “The Maestro” in the house, I thought it appropriate to go with one of his all-time hits, Mattinata, written by Ruggero Leoncavallo way back in 1904 and one of the 26 songs that made it into the Pavarotti’s Greatest Hits CD.
If you’ll cue it up on the turntable, I mean the iPhone, and raise the volume to the heavens, we’ll get this culinary aria underway.
Step-1: Fill a medium-size pot with water, cover, set the burner to HIGH and bring to a boil.
Step-2: Cut the pre-packaged roasted peppers and black olives, and peel, quarter and flatten out the cloves of garlic.
Step-3: Pour the olive oil into a skillet rotating it around until the pan is completely coated. Set the burner on MEDIUM heat and warm the oil for no more than one min. DO NOT BURN THE OIL.
Step-4: When the olive oil heats up, introduce the garlic (or garlic powder) and stir. Once the garlic cloves turn paper-bag brown, turn the burner off and remove them from the skillet and toss.
Step-5: Weigh the pasta to ensure you have the right amount (100g x person).
Step-6: The medium pot of water is now boiling. Remove the lid and add the sea salt.
Step-7: Drop the dried penne into the boiling water, stir vigorously for about 15 sec. to keep the pieces separated. Set the timer for 9 minutes and let the pasta cook on its own.
Note: Cooking time for the penne rigate (size n. 73) is 11 min., but we’ll subtract 1 min. and use that time to quickly sauté the pasta in the sauce at the very end just before plating to ensure the dish is al dente.
Step-8: While the penne cook, return the skillet to the burner and place on MEDIUM heat. Fold in the roasted pepper and black olives, the optional crushed hot red pepper flakes, and 2 tablespoons of the boiling, salty pasta water and stir for 2 min. Turn the burner down to LOW and keep the sauce going until the penne finish cooking.
Step-9: The timer rings at the 10-min. mark. The pasta is done. Turn off the burner. Drain the penne in a colander and shake off the excess water.
Step-10: Throw the penne down into the skillet where the sauce has remained warm. Raise the burner to MEDIUM heat and sauté quickly for about 30-sec., or until all the “quills” are bathed in the sauce.
Step-11: Turn the burner off. Plate the penne. Serve with crunchy, artisan black olive bread.
Step-12: BUON APETITO!
Recommended wine pairing: Bidibi IGT – Maculan Società Agricola, Breganze (VI), Italy.
Made from a blend of Tai (f.n.a. Tocai, 55%) and Sauvignon (45%), this refreshing vino is straw-yellow in color. Intensely aromatic, it pours forth with refreshing notes of ripe tropical fruit, citrus and freshly cut grass.
Dry and well-rounded on the palate, Bidibi IGT has a vibrant acidity with a pleasant and persistent finish. It stands on its own as a true ombra (regional dialect for aperitif), and marries well with soups, first courses – including the above recipe – and light fish dishes.
Best served chilled at 10°C. Cin cin!