Sunday, November 13, 2011

Penne with Creamy Tomato-Chipotle Cheese Sauce on a Lazy Sunday

It is Sunday.

It is cloudy outside.

I am going to Nashville tomorrow. For 23 hours. Total. That is the whole trip.

How did I decide to spend this day?

There were many things I should have done. I should have cleaned the bathroom, paid bills, raked leaves, and done a million other things tormenting me from my to do lists (note the use of the plural). I did do some of these things.

Then, I needed a break. You ask, "how did you decide to take this break?" I made pasta and watched a made for TV movie (starring James Van Der Beek, no joke) with Max on the couch. Don't judge me about the movie.

This pasta recipe is perfect for happy comfort times. It is fast and simple. This is one of the pasta sauce recipes that taught me that pasta and sauce belong together. It is smokey, hardy, and creamy. So satisfying.

I used to think pasta sauce came out of a jar. You open a jar, heat up the sauce, boil the pasta, then you serve pasta and sauce at the table. It turns out that pasta tastes better when it is finished in the sauce, then it absorbs some of the sauce and flavor. Sauce does not need to come in jars all finished. It comes from ingredients, ingredients that do not necessarily need all day to cook. Not necessarily complex.

This is it. Pasta + ingredients = pasta in sauce.

Penne with Creamy Tomato-Chipotle Sauce
modified a little from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 small chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced (these exist in almost every grocery store)
1 tablespoon of the adobo sauce (from the jar)
2 14.5 ounce cans of diced tomatoes
1 pound penne, rigatoni, or any tubular pasta
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
5 ounces feta cheese or a fresh goat cheese

1. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. I have always heard that the water should be as salty as Mediterranean... I am not sure I ever remember specifically tasting the Mediterranean, but I think the water should be salty because it seasons the pasta and then you need less salt later.

Garlic and chipotle chiles are really all it takes to flavor this pasta.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. The garlic should be golden and delicious smelling. Then add the chipotles and adobo sauce. Cook this until fragrant (about 1 minute)

3. Add the tomatoes and a three fingered pinch of salt to the chiles and garlic. Now we have a sauce! Bring this to a simmer and allow it to cook for 15 minutes.

These are home canned tomatoes. Derek and I spent hours making these this summer. When I opened up the can, it smelled like summer again. Was it worth the time? Questionable.

4. When there is about 10 minutes left for the sauce, add the pasta to the boiling water. Cook it for about 2 to 3 minutes less than the package says. You want it to be too undercooked to eat when you drain it. Trust me. Before you drain the pasta reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta.

5. Crumble the cheese into the sauce and combine. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir it up. At this point, I usually add about 1/2 cup to 1 cup of pasta water to the pasta and sauce. This helps get the sauce evenly distributed and the starches in the pasta water help thicken up the sauce. Stir the pasta constantly into the sauce until the pasta absorbs the sauce and the pasta is cooked to your taste. Stir in the minced cilantro.

Pasta water is miraculous.

6. Eat! Preferably with Van Der Beek and a kitten.

P.S. - His forehead is really huge. What a man.


  1. MMM chipotle...this pasta sounds delicious! I could go for a big bowl of it right about now.
    So, I'm thinking Christmas jam exchange...I'll email you my address : )

  2. Awesome. I may have also gotten you a house warming present...