Pasta with Pesto Calabrese

Circle B Kitchen

Serves 4

I researched several Calabrian pesto recipes and created my own version, taking the best from each.  I knew I wanted to roast my peppers (rather than boil or steam them) and we loved the depth of flavor roasting gave to the sauce.  After grilling the peppers, you needn't peel them (we loved the charred bits in the sauce), but depending on how charred your peppers are, you can choose to keep or peel them as you like. You will end up with more sauce than you’ll need for 1 lb of pasta, but it freezes well and can also be used to top chicken, grilled fish or crostini.

3 red bell peppers, halved and seeded
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, minced (1-2 cloves)
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2  tablespoons Harissa (*see note)
1 1/2 ounces sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup  extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
¼ cup grated pecorino cheese (or parmesan), plus extra for serving
2 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt

1 pound short cut pasta like penne, cavatappi, rigatoni, farfalle, gamelli, campanile

Extra grated parmesan cheese and chopped fresh basil for serving.

* Harissa is a North African chili paste similar to the Calabrian chili paste traditionally used in this pesto.  It's a great sub in if you don't have the Calabrian version

To roast the peppers:
You can either roast the peppers over the flame of a gas stove, under a broiler or on an outdoor grill set to high heat.  (If doing this on a gas stove, I use a small barbecue grill set over the grate so I don’t have to watch them so closely).  It should take about 15-20 minutes to totally roast/grill the peppers.  Once blackened, place them in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let them steam until soft.  When cool enough to handle, slice and set aside.

Put a large pot of water on to boil and add 3-4 tablespoons of kosher salt to the water.  Bring to a boil and then add the pasta.  Cook for the lowest recommended time on the package.  Drain and reserve a cup of the cooking water.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and saute the chopped onion until soft.  Add the garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, sundried tomatoes, harissa, tomato paste and water.  Stir and bring to a simmer.  Cook for 3-4 minutes and then remove from the heat and let cool a bit.

Place everything (except the pasta) into the bowl of a blender or food processor and process until it creates a smooth paste.  Taste for salt and add more harissa or red pepper flakes depending on your preferred heat levels.

Place about half of the sauce in the skillet used previously and set over low heat.  Stir in the cooked pasta, adding more sauce as needed to just lightly coat the pasta.  Add the pasta cooking water as needed to thin the sauce and coat nicely.  Serve warm topped with additional grated pecorino and chopped fresh basil, if desired.