Pasta Friday #11: Taking it Easy with Slow-Cooked Red Sauce

The Meal:

Conchiglioni in a slow-cooked tomato sauce with spinach, fresh herbs and mozzarella
Butter lettuce with Brussels sprouts, pomegranate, pancetta and shaved parmesan with balsamic

tomato sauce with pasta shells and cheese

The Story:

Pasta Friday #11 was a mellow one. Mellow, as in, only 15 adults and 8 kids. It was manageable – calm even! The kids were stampeding through the house, chasing each other with a giant, lifelike stuffed tiger, but still calm, comparatively. 

kids eating pasta

Pasta Friday is all about the family you get to choose. It's the big Italian family you always wanted, because you don't have to invite the cousin who puts pushpins on your chair. Or the snarky uncle who makes you drink Sambuca. And your legs won't stick to the plastic-covered sofas. When you see the same people almost every week, a funny thing happens: you become part of their lives. You have a more intimate understanding of how they spend their days, and they have the same look into your life. Like family. And you get to see connections between people who didn't know each other at all. The tech guys who now meet for lunch. The moms sharing ideas for winter camp. Older kids nurturing the youngins. 

And, we had the first Pasta Friday break-up! Oh man, my timing is bad. Apparently I sat down with the doomed couple right in the thick of it, moments before "it" happened. It was obvious something was going on, but I was already two glasses of wine in, so over my head it went. That was last week, actually, and this week our friend came solo, so I'm happy the break-up didn't completely sour his Pasta Friday experience.

The Food:

pasta shells with cheese

That sauce! Besides the lower guest count, the menu helped make this a breezy week. Anytime I cook big pots of sauce, as opposed to a meal made up of many different components, it is WAY easier. Last week, after roasting and shredding the chickens, slicing and chopping what felt like a zillion vegetables, pounding together the verde sauce, I was so dead tired, I barely got to enjoy all 27 people who came over. This week felt good. I chopped a bunch of onions and a whole head of garlic, and after sautéing them in olive oil, I added two giant cans of whole peeled tomatoes, and let it simmer for a few hours. 

slow cooked tomato sauce

Meanwhile, I prepped the salad. I diced up a couple pounds of pancetta and cooked it in the oven until barely crispy. Then I chopped up Brussels sprouts, and left them marinating in lemon juice and salt. I bought pomegrante seeds, because I didn't feel like messing with the whole fruit, and washed and tore seven heads of butter lettuce. And then I whisked together a viniagrette with a syrupy balsamic and olive oil. 

When we were ready to eat, I poured four pounds of shells into boiling water, and stirred fresh spinach into the sauce, which by this point was a deep ruby red and thickly coated the back of a wooden spoon. Next came a handful of parsley and basil.

When the shells were a touch too al dente, I strained them and mixed them into the bubbly pots of sauce. And then came the cheese. Two pounds of diced fresh mozzarella. I gently stirred it until the cheese became barley noticeable strings floating amid the giant pasta.

To finish up the salad, I dressed it and tossed together the pomegrante, pancetta, the lemony Brussel sprouts and a heaping handful of shaved parmesan. 

There were no leftovers. None. Dana left one remaining shell on her plate, and her son Graham snatched it up quickly. 

The Wine:

Once again, I failed. Failed to taste enough wine to give you a fair review. But, we did have a bottle that I know and love – Unlitro from Ampeleia. It's a red blend from Italy, and I love it because it's super easy to drink. Easy because it's light, balanced and delicious. It makes me feel like I'm sitting at a cafe at Montepulciano drinking incredibly tasty table wine. And, it comes in a liter bottle, so there's that. 

Let me share a little wine dilemma we've been having here at Pasta Friday. On the weekly email I send out to guests, I specify to bring wine - a bottle per adult. My hope was that we'd drink almost all of it, leaving a couple of bottles for Alejandro and I to drink during the week. That never happens. When people bring a bottle per person, they drink a bottle per person. And they Uber home. Either that, or we have some rule-breakers. Maybe we need a doorman, checking bottles. Lenny's on the case.