Despite the gorgeous, sunny, rainless days we’ve been having you know fall is just around the corner when the morning bike ride is a nippy 56F so that you’re huddling in your thermal jacket and wind vest. I may have grown up in North Dakota but I’m a fully acclimated Pacific NW temperature wimp ;). This is a hearty dish that is very versatile, for you vegetarians and vegans out there you can still get the smoky flavor of the bacon by substituting olive oil and toasted sesame oil. The creamy white beans provide a nice counterpoint to the acidity of the tomatoes and the sweet cherry tomatoes and carrot help smooth everything out. Besides trying to find new and delicious uses for my tonnage of pattypan squash, I can’t help but find it appealing to be able to sneak in vitamin A, B6, C, beta carotene, manganese, and fiber with no one being the wiser. [mwahahahaha!] I can definitely see this flexible dish being amenable to different veggies like butternut squash, eggplant, or even parsnips as you work your way through the winter’s produce offerings.
A few happy hints:
1) Besides improving your night vision, the sweetness of the carrot gives a luscious smoothness to tomato-based sauces so give carrots a chance 😉 Seriously, while you won’t taste carrot! you will notice a mellow note that may have you asking yourself why you haven’t been tossing carrots into all your sauces.
2) If you don’t have cherry tomatoes, not to worry. Just add 1 lb of ripe tomatoes or another 15 oz can of diced tomatoes then add 1 tsp sugar and 2 tsp of a mildly acidic vinegar like cider vinegar. This will give you the tangy sweet note that the cherry tomatoes would have provided. I wouldn’t use balsamic or white vinegar as these will taste too acidic making the sauce too harsh and sour.
3) Do not boil pasta and then rinse it off in water so it can sit in the colander until you’re ready for it if you can at all avoid it. Why? Cuz rinsing the pasta also gets rid of all that sticky starch on the outside that lets your delicious sauce adhere to and flavor that lovely pasta. That’s also why it’s best not to add oil to pasta water because while it may keep the pasta from sticking together it will also coat the pasta and prevent the sauce from sticking to it as well resulting in a bland slightly greasy carb bomb.
4) Save a cup of pasta water before you pour everything into the colander. This will save you pain and hardship if your sauce is too thick or gummy without making it watery like water or broth would or making your veggies grey lifeless from having to cook down the additional broth. I find that dipping a ceramic mug into the water gives me sufficient pasta water and then I don’t have to worry about being able to aim a 10 lb molten hot pot as I’m draining it.
5) I like to undercook my pasta by about a minute or two, so chewy that it’s not even al dente yet (literally “to the tooth,” such that the texture is firm to the bite), allowing me to finish cooking it in the sauce so that the delicious flavors can stick to the starchy outside of the pasta giving you savory pasta with yummy sauce instead of bland pasta with a savory sauce.
1 strip bacon, diced ** vegan alternative: substitute 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil and 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 small carrot, finely diced
1/2 small sweet onion, finely diced
2 tsp (2 cloves) crushed garlic
1 summer squash, peeled and diced ~ 1 c
1/4-1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
2 tsp + 1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 lb cherry tomatoes ~ 2 c
15 oz can great northern or other white beans (eg canellini), drained
1 lb rigatoni or other hollow pasta (eg penne or ziti)
1/4 c shredded parmesan (optional)
In a large 3 1/2 quart saucepan sauté bacon over med-hi heat till crispy ~ 2 minutes. **If you’re veganizing (Sure, I’m comfortable with pretending that this is a word….) this recipe skip the bacon step and heat olive and sesame oils till they’re fragrant but not smoking ~30-45 seconds. Add onions, squash, and carrots and sauté for 4 minutes, releasing their juices but remaining crisp tender. (Also called “sweating,” hey, this is a real term, not one of my crazy creations.) Add garlic, 2 tsp salt, crushed red pepper, oregano and thyme and mix well. Add canned tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and white beans and simmer over low heat for 10-5 minutes till veggies are tender and the sauce has thickened then remove from heat.
While tomato mixture is thickening boil water and 1 tsp salt in a large ~ 8 quart pot. Set timer for 2 minutes less than the recommended time and cook pasta. Scoop out ~ 1 c of pasta water and set aside then drain pasta and add to simmering tomato mixture. Cook for an additional 2 minutes or until pasta is al dente. If your sauce is too thick for your tastes, add 1/4 c of pasta water and mix. Continue to add pasta water as needed to your preferred consistency. I like my ragùs to be on the drier side so 1/4 c of pasta water is usually plenty for me with this type of sauce. Serve in shallow bowls or pasta bowls and sprinkle parmesan to taste over ragù. Makes 4 servings.