"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Recipes: Penne a la Crème with Red Peppers

This is a recipe that I developed many years ago when I was beginning to write a cookbook to be entitled Pasta as a First Course – Simple but Elegant.  I didn’t get very far.  I got hung up on exact measurements, and since I create my own recipes (a little bit of this, a little bit of that), it was very hard to get precise, measured ingredients.  I found myself estimating the amount of spice, wine, cream, garlic, etc. in recipes, then cooking them, then having to try again…and again….until I got it right.  I feel liberated in writing my online cookbook (work in progress, one or two recipes posted at a time to be collected later), because it is intended for people who know something about cooking.  When I estimate 1 tbsp. of basil, I expect that most cooks who are interested in the recipe will have a feel for what it is supposed to taste like before they start cooking and will be able to taste and adjust.  The measures that I give in the recipes are very, very close, but tasting is always the key.

Penne a la Crème with Red Peppers was the recipe I remember most from those days, for I never could seem to get it right.  The problem was that the cream always seemed to separate, and the rich, smooth sauce that I sought was out of reach.  I made the recipe last night for the first time since those days, and since I have learned many cooking techniques and tricks in those twenty or more years, the recipe turned out just as it is supposed to – a delicate cream sauce infused with the sweet taste of red peppers and sherry, made just a bit sour with sour cream.  It is a delight, and here it is:

* 1 lg. red bell pepper, cut into 1” pieces (more or less)

* 1/2 medium onion, also cut into 1” pieces

* 2 Tbsp. unsalted European-style butter (regular unsalted butter is fine.  I prefer the European style because it is richer, and I loved my baguettes in Paris spread with it.  I liked it so much that I spread it on pain au chocolat, a no-no in France, but soooooo good).

* 2 Tbsp. Amontillado sherry (other medium dry sherries will do – NOT cooking sherry).

* 1/2 cup Half-and-Half

* 1 lg. tbsp. sour cream

* 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

- Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the red peppers and onions

- Cook covered over low heat until soft (about 15 minutes)

- Add the sherry and cook over medium heat until the sherry has evaporated.  Taste for flavor.  You can add more sherry if you like.

- Turn the heat off, and add the cream, stirring constantly until the sauce reddens a bit and all ingredients are mixed well.

- When the cream and the ingredients have been mixed well and you have a creamy sauce, turn the heat on but only to very low.  Add the sour cream a little bit at a time, stirring constantly.  (THIS IS IMPORTANT.  The sour cream because of its acidity can separate the cream, but it will not do so if you add slowly and cook over very low heat.  You can eliminate the sour cream entirely if you are concerned about separation, but if you follow these instructions you will do OK. )

- Let the sauce simmer, stirring constantly, for another five minutes or so.  By that time the sauce should have thickened slightly, and have an even color and texture.

- Cook the penne (the above recipe is for two or three people, 1/2 lb. pasta)

- Plate the pasta, place the sauce evenly on top.  Add grated parmesan to taste.

- Add a few grindings of fresh black pepper and serve. 

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