Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Rotini with arugula pesto, pangrattato and crispy egg (aka fried egg sandwich pasta)

I am a greedy eater. My main motivation for cooking is that I love food and I want to eat more of what I like. Sometimes I get hooked on a idea or inspired by a certain combination of flavors and get a little obsessed with how to make the thought into something I can eat. This recipe is a narrative of my greediness.

Recently, my husband has been traveling out of town and so I put my menu planning together just for me. Everyone handles "single eating" differently: I often use it for one of my favorite dinners- tater tots, a glass of chardonnay and Netflix. I also view it as an opportunity to try out a new recipe.  One of my favorite easy suppers is a fried egg sandwich with arugula. I love the peppery arugula with the salty silkiness of the egg.  I love the sandwich so much, I was thinking about blogging about it, but felt sheepish because it is so basic. This sent my brain down the rabbit trail of "How can I take the flavors of this sandwich and translate it into more of meal? Something I could actually share with others?" These questions cross-pollinated with the view of my basil plant, sagging with unpicked leaves and a tub of unused arugula in my fridge. I recently read in Julia Turshen's book about her pesto process (yes, I am referencing her book again. I will likely never not be praising that book), and landed on the idea of a pasta coated with arugula and basil pesto and topped with a crispy fried egg. I loved it but had the nagging suspicion I was leaving an element out. Deb Perelman on Smitten Kitchen posted last winter about pangrattato which sounds fancy but here is what she had to say about it:
"Pangrattato translates from Italian as grated bread, referring to breadcrumbs themselves, but in dishes, it’s often known to as the poor man’s Parmesan because when you take that stale bread and lightly toast in in olive oil, herbs and seasonings — anything from just salt and pepper to garlic and anchovies, lemon zest and capers or olives — it adds remarkable texture and complex flavor to pasta without the expense of Parmesan."
Somewhere my memory dredged up this and I realized pangrattato would be the perfect "toast" element to my fried egg sandwich pasta. I love the moment when an idea coalesces. It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does I get a buzzy sort of feeling, like when I've had too much coffee.

Completely obsessed with the idea, I set out to execute it. It seriously turned out so good- the punchy herbal zing of the pesto with the savory crunch of the bread crumbs, all wrapped up in a cozy dish of pasta. While the first time through a new recipe takes a bit longer, I think if I make the pesto in advance and stash it in the freezer (as Julia recommends), this could easily be a weeknight dinner. While I've written the recipe below for 1-2 servings, I think it could be scaled up to feed more by increasing the pasta and eggs. The pesto recipe as written makes enough that it should cover a full pound of pasta.

(For ultimate fried egg sandwich inspiration, there is a perfect one in the film, Spanglish.)

Rotini pasta with arugula pesto, pangrattato and crispy fried egg (aka fried egg sandwich pasta)
serves 2 or 1 with leftovers

The pesto recipe is a (slight) variation from Julia Turshen's book, Small Victories. The original recipe called for walnuts, but as I have an aversion to them, I substituted the pumpkin seeds and it worked beautifully. Also, instead of all arugula, I include a cup of basil because my little basil plant on my windowsill was begging for some purpose.

The pangrattato and crispy egg recipe are from Smitten Kitchen and, with the exception of excluding rosemary in the pangrattato, I have used it as originally created, but provided my own instructions.

This is one of those recipes that goes quickly, so I highly recommend having ingredients prepped before getting started.

2 small (or 1 large) garlic cloves
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (to toast, spread on rimmed sheet pan in 375 degree oven and bake for approximately 5 - 7 minutes. Take care not to burn. Let cool completely before adding to pesto)
3 cups arugula, packed
1 cup basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small (or 1 large) garlic clove, minced
1/2 - 3/4 cup fresh or stale corse bread crumbs (I took some leftover bread and whirled it for a bit in my food processor. Deb's recipe says you can also use panko breadcrumbs)
few fine gratings of lemon zest

to complete:
1/2 pound fusilli pasta (I think cavatappi would work very nicely too)
2 eggs (or 1 egg per person)
olive oil
salt & pepper

1) Make the pangrattato: In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Once the olive oil is shimmery, add the garlic for just a quick second, give it a stir, and then add breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and lemon zest. Immediately reduce the heat to low. Cook the mixture slowly until the bread crumbs are evenly toasted and golden brown. This is one of those steps where you need to stay at the stove and keep an eye on it to avoid burning. The reward for this fiddliness is a crunchy savory topping for the pasta. Once all toasted, remove from pan and set aside. (Try to avoid snacking on it- good luck)

2) Put large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. In the meantime...

3) Make the pesto: To a food processor, add the ingredients in stages, until they are finely chopped. This is Julia's methodology and its a smart solution to avoid having errant chunks in the final product. First up, while the food processor is running, add the garlic. Once the garlic is finely chopped, add the pumpkin seeds. Once the pumpkin seeds are finely chopped, add the arugula and basil. Then add the olive oil and parmesan and keep the food processor running until everything is well combined. You may need to stop a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. One finished, taste the pesto and add salt as necessary. At this point, I leave the pesto to sit in the food processor until it's time to add to the pasta- this way I can give it one last spin before pouring over.

4) Make crispy eggs: In a non-stick pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil per egg over high heat. Crack in an egg and season liberally with salt and pepper. Cook until white is set and egg yolk is still a bit runny (or cook yolk to your preference). If you can, carefully spoon the hot olive oil in the pan over the top of the egg. The edges of egg will get very crispy and crackly. Transfer cooked eggs to a plate lined with a paper towel. (I tend to cook my fried eggs one at a time, but please don't feel hampered by my own limitations.)

5) Assemble: Cook pasta according to package directions and before draining, set aside 1 cup of pasta water. Add pasta back to empty pot and add 1/3 cup of pesto and a few tablespoons of reserved pasta water. Toss pasta with sauce to coat, adding more pesto or water as needed. Divide pasta among shallow bowls and top with breadcrumbs and crispy egg. Serve immediately.

Note: this pesto is excellent as it's own element. A few nights later, I tossed the leftovers with some roasted veggies. Crazy good.

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