A Taste of Seattle

I just got back from a blissful long weekend in Seattle, where, miraculouslyit did not rain for four straight days.  Instead, it was unseasonably warm and full of sunshine.  This lucky break made way for some gorgeously simple pleasures: mornings on the beach, days on the pier, afternoons shopping for fresh fish and produce, nights cooking with friends, and every day dining with killer views.

That long, luxurious post will soon follow — but today, I am excited to share just a taste of my weekend: my favorite home-cooked meal, prepared with two of my favorite people, elevated by both the remarkable Seattle produce and the beautiful Washington setting.  No matter your setting, of course, this is a glorious, perfectly relaxing way to spend a Saturday night with people you love.

Antipasto — As I prepped our main meal, my ever-lovely friend Jessica began prepping the first course as our friend Jo mixed her a fabulous dirty martini.  Our advice?  Keep it simple.  Marinated artichoke hearts.  Peppadews stuffed with chèvre.  Spicy sopresatta.  Blue cheese olives.  Sliced Pecorino Romano drizzled with balsamic vinegar.  Crusty bread.

The best part about this meal is the lush, relaxed experience of prepping over conversation, taking a sip of wine while readying the next course.  No matter where you are, you take almost all of the work out of cooking by bringing the party into the kitchen.

Lumaconi with Garlic Arrabbiata and Sausage — This is absolutely one of my favorite meals to prepare for friends.  It's easy to make, works with almost any macaroni pasta (if you don't like or can't find lumaconi), and above all, it tastes insanely delicious.  It's also spectacular with almost any red wine (or white if you prefer it.  Hell, I had a gin and tonic).

A note for purists: Lumaconi is a large snail shell-shaped pasta that is often reserved for stuffing and baking ... but you know I hate rules.  I find lumaconi to be a blown-out version of rigatoni (my fave macaroni), and think it's great for grabbing hunks of sauce and meat.  It's just fun to eat.  You don't like it?  Use what you do like — but be sure it's hearty enough to grab and hold onto a bold sauce, like a rigatoni or radiatori or fusilli.

1 pound Lumaconi or Rigatoni
1 - 1.5 pounds Italian turkey or chicken sausage
3 28oz cans San Marzano tomatoes (whole, not crushed)
I head of garlic
Olive oil
Crushed red pepper flakes
Percorino Romano cheese
Fresh basil leaves
Kosher or sea salt

Heat a very large deep skillet to medium high heat.  Add a splash of olive oil, just enough to thinly coat the bottom of the pan.  Add the sausages and brown on both sides.  Once the second side is browned and the pan is getting super hot, add a quarter of a cup of water to create steam and immediately cover the pan for several minutes — typically, this causes the sausages to pop into rustic chunks.  If they don't pop, simply cut or tear into chunks and thoroughly brown them.  When brown, set aside.

In the meantime, crack the head of garlic on a cutting board or counter to separate the cloves.  This recipe is super garlicky, so you're probably going to use almost the entire head, maybe 8 good cloves.  With a fine hand grater, grate the garlic into a small bowl, creating a paste.  This paste is key to the depth of flavor in this sauce.

Separately, open the tomatoes and pour their juice into a large bowl.  Using your hands, gently crush the tomatoes inside their cans  — don't be tempted to use crushed tomatoes instead.  The flavor and texture of the whole tomatoes is superior, and worth this step.  When all are crushed, set aside.

Next, add a good amount of olive oil to the pan with the browned bits still in the bottom, using medium heat (keep in mind, this is true, homestyle Italian cooking.  Eyeball everything.  Use your taste buds and personal preferences to measure.  Have fun with it).  To the oil, add the garlic paste and a good sprinkling of salt — keep an eye on the garlic and do not let it burn.  You want it to warm through and infuse the oil.  Next, add about a tablespoon of the red pepper flakes and let them also warm through.  They'll toast in the oil and give it a smoky/spicy kick.

Once the garlic and pepper have warmed through and become fragrant, pour about a cup of the reserved tomato juice into the pan to deglaze the browned bits at the bottom.  Next, add the crushed tomatoes to the pan, along with half of the reserved juice.  Heat through, then test for seasoning.  This sauce will reduce, so be careful not to over salt it.  Use the reserved juice to thin the sauce or adjust seasoning.  Next, add the sausage back to the pan.  Simmer over medium low heat for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, cook the pasta according to the directions, in a large pot of salted boiling water.  When the pasta is about two-thirds cooked, add it to the pan of sauce and allow it to continue cooking until the pasta is al dente.  At the last minute, roughly chop the fresh basil and toss with the pasta.

Ladle pasta into bowls and top with freshly grated Locatelli Pecorino Romano cheese.  Serve immediately with hand-torn pieces of crusty Italian or French bread.



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