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Gemelli with Broccolini, Sriracha and Sweet Sausage

         There are times when all I crave for dinner is a big bowl of pasta and the infinite possibilities it presents.  First of all there are the almost unlimited varieties of pasta spanning all shapes and sizes and textures.  From tiny orzo all the way through to sheets of lasagna, your options are wide open.   Equally limitless, there is almost nothing you cannot make into a sauce, as this recipe proves.  It combines the familiar – sweet Italian Sausage, Broccolini, Garlic and Reggiano Parmigiano—with an adventurous use of completely un-Italian Sriracha Hot Sauce and Smoked Paprika.  The result is an intensely flavorful sauce — not overly spicy just richer and more interesting. These ingredients may be completely out of context with Italian Pasta, but they add a layer of flavor that lifts the dish from everyday to extraordinary. And pasta with Sriracha and Smoked Paprika make for a great guessing game at the dinner table. Ah, the joy of pasta!

Letizia Mattiaci

Italians consume about 57 lbs of pasta per person per year.  That, according to Letizia Mattiacci, cookbook author and proprietor of the Alla Madonna del Piatto Cooking School in Umbria, is the equivalent of 325 portions of pasta a year.   I had to wonder if Italians spend the remaining 40 days of the year outside the country.  In Italy, where pasta is pure comfort food,  Italians maintain robust ideas about which pasta goes with which sauce.  No red-blooded Italian will concede that any old pasta will go with any old sauce.  The main criteria are tradition and that the shape of the pasta combines with the texture of the sauce.  Signora Mattiacci led us through the rules: “Short pasta is great with chunky sauces”, like today’s recipe. “Morsels of meat or olives trapped inside tubes of penne or around the twirls of fusilli.  Spaghetti and linguine are ideal with oil-based sauces like pesto or clams.”  Finally the combination of egg-based pasta and meat or cream sauces “make a great combination due to the balance of flavors.”  One final word from Signora Mattiaci: “While I am totally in favor of buying locally produced food, in all my travels I have never encountered pasta of comparable quality to that made in Italy. So unless you have access to local artisan pasta, I recommend using Italian import brands.”   To me, when I cannot get to Eataly to buy from their truly astonishing selection, my supermarket pasta of choice is De Cecco. Barilla, of anti-gay fame, is made in Bannockburn, Illinois.

Broccolini is not Baby Broccoli

I chose Gemelli for my recipe but I would have been happy with Cavatelli, or Strozzapreti or Orechiette.  Fusilli also falls into this camp but reminds me too much of deli counter pasta salads to have much appeal.  I was delighted to find another way to serve Broccolini. No, Broccolini is not the tender offspring of Broccoli. It was developed in 1993 by crossing Broccoli and Chinese Broccoli.  You could also switch it out for Broccoli Rabe, which, astonishingly, is not related to Broccoli at all but is a member of the Turnip Family.  Broccoli Rabe will add a certain bitterness to the dish compared to the sweetness of Broccolini. I chose Sweet Italian Sausage so that the flavor of the Sriracha and Paprika would not be overwhelmed by Italian Hot Sausage.

Sriracha has a story as fascinating as any in today’s food world.  The now familiar Green topped bottle with its Rooster logo was the work of a Vietnamese immigrant to the United States who arrived in 1980.  According to a Huffington Post article from 2013, Tran could not find a spicy additive for the foods he cooked.  He discovered that the entire Southeast Asian community in Los Angeles had the same hot sauce cravings he did.  He put together his recipe for Sriracha with hybrid jalapeno peppers, vinegar, sugar, salt and garlic, and bottled it. In 2010, Bon Appetit named it the ingredient of the year. And in 2012, Cook’s Illustrated called it ‘the best-tasting hot sauce’.  It has been adopted by everyone from Japanese Sushi Chefs to spice up tuna rolls to American chefs looking to spice up good ole Mac and Cheese.  And now, this American is translating it into Italian.  Here is the recipe:

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