Creating recipes isn't a pastime—it's a passion. And a lot of fun.

The rules are few: Use 99% fresh ingredients (or thereabouts); make the dish simple but flavorful; make the dish flavorful but simple; be creative, not silly.

With this blog, I want to share new recipes, along with tips on ingredients and preparation, and, hopefully, show new cooks (and non-cooks) the pleasure in setting the table with a delicious homemade meal. The Briny Lemon is about fresh, simple, flavorful ingredients and easy cooking methods that help you bring the best to your family table. Your comments are welcome!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Toasted Penne with Tomatoes and Baby Spinach

Toasting dry pasta in a skillet with a little olive oil is a simple and easy way to add extra flavor to otherwise plain noodles that depend on a sauce for taste. The browning process lends a bit of smoky, toasted flavor before the pasta is actually cooked along with the sauce. No separate boiling required.

Note: If you use short, tubular pasta, such as penne, as I did here, it will need extra minutes to soften in the sauce as opposed to boiling water. I cooked it about 17 minutes total to an al dente texture. Thinner noodles, of course, will cook faster.

The sauce in this recipe is simply canned, peeled tomatoes, hand-crushed, along with baby spinach leaves and chicken broth for extra moisture to cook the penne. I added the broth to the pan a little at a time to maintain a “saucy” consistency throughout cooking.

Serves 4

  • 2 tbsp olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 8 oz penne (or other short, tubular pasta)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes (preferably organic)
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups baby spinach leaves (long stems removed)
  • 1 cup chicken broth, divided
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving
  1. Heat a large, deep skillet over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly toasted, 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Do not wipe out the skillet.
Penne Beginning to Toast
After 3 Minutes 
Toasted Pasta
  1. If there is less than 1 tablespoon of oil remaining in the pan, add a little more. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute.
  2. Add the tomatoes to the pan, crushing them in your fingers as they’re added. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a light simmer (not a hard boil). Cook, continuing to break up the tomatoes with a spoon, 5 minutes.
  3. Add the spinach and cook until wilted, 1 minute.
  4. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth and return the pasta to the pan. Cover and simmer slowly 6-7 minutes. Add 1/4 cup broth, cover, and continue simmering 6-7 minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 cup broth and cook until the sauce is slightly thickened and the pasta is firmly al dente, 3-4 minutes longer. Check for seasoning, adding more salt if desired.
Tomatoes Beginning to Cook
Spinach Added
Wilted Spinach 
Broth with Pasta Returned
Divide the pasta among 4 bowls and pass Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table for grating.

Toasted Penne with Tomatoes and Baby Spinach

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