Saturday, January 17, 2009

Rich Easy Pasta Dish for Winter, with Ham, Tomato, and Cream

On this cold winter afternoon, looking out at the darkening sky, I'm inclined toward rich and comforting food. Here's a pasta dish that fits, plus has a delightful pink color. Potato cooked in with the pasta is a trick from Genoa, originally for dressing with pesto. Potato with pasta adds to the comfort of the dish.

The recipe serves six. It goes with a light-bodied red wine, like a Chianti, a Pinot Noir, or a French or Spanish wine of Grenache/Garnacha.

Pasta with Ham, Tomato, and Cream

1/2 pound penne rigati or other short pasta
1 large potato, peeled, in 1/2-inch cubes
3/8 pound (6 ounces) sliced smoked ham (get at deli counter)
1 15-ounce can diced tomato, drained (use juice for another dish)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2/3 cup half and half cream
3/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
4 tablespoons grated romano or parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons finely minced parsley

Boil four quarts of water in large pot, add 1 teaspoon of salt. Peel and cube potato and soak in cold water. Prepare sauce ingredients before cooking pasta and potato.

Cut sliced ham into 1/2-inch squares, and set aside. Drain diced tomatoes. Place oil and garlic in microwaveable serving bowl, such as a pasta dish. Heat in microwave 30 seconds. Add ham, cream, tomatoes, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Microwave again, until well heated, 30 seconds at a time. Stir between heatings. Cream should boil lightly at the edge. (Alternatively, the sauce can be cooked quickly in a pan on the stove.)

Add potatoes to boiling water. When it returns to a boil, add pasta and stir well at first so it does not stick together. Boil, stirring occasionally, until pasta and potato are just tender when you bite them, 4 to 6 or more minutes, depending on the pasta. Drain in a colander and shake out water.

Add pasta to sauce. Add cheese and parsley, and toss all together. Taste, and add a little salt if necessary (usually not needed, but depends on salt in ham and cheese).

Serve immediately, dusted with a little more cheese. Accompany with more grated cheese.

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