Food and the Holidays
Food is an integral part of most celebrations. It satisfies both a physiological need and psychological desire. Most parties consist of some form of delectable fare: whether it is mouth-watering appetizers, tantalizing meals, luscious desserts, or a combination of the three. And although most of our meals should be portion-controlled, many of us tend to bend the rules on special occasions.
During the holidays, our time is often ruled by cooking. Sometimes we stay loyal to recipes we know, and sometimes we experiment with our culinary imagination. The meal below is an interesting combination of both. It castes the proverbial “pasta” as the main star, but it also depicts a slightly different gastronomic aura in the subtle yet tasty sauce. The end result? A pleasurable diversion from the tried-and-true. An added bonus? The sauce takes under 30 minutes to prepare.
Mezzi Rigatoni in a Creamy Tomato Liqueur Sauce
2 10-ounce packages of sliced Baby Bella mushrooms (the mushrooms should be Baby Bella, not white)
2/3 can of Hunt’s 6-ounce basil, garlic, and oregano tomato paste
8 to 12-ounces of Barilla Mezzi Rigatoni
¾ cup of half and half cream
1 teaspoon (or more) of Sugar Maple Liqueur (or another sweet, mild, pleasant-tasting liqueur)
Salt and pepper to taste (more salt than pepper)
Several sprigs of fresh parsley
Extra-virgin olive oil for coating
Coat a 10″ skillet with olive oil. Add the mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Stir until the juices from the mushrooms seep out and bathe the pan. Taste the liquid; it should be somewhat salty (but not overly so). Add more salt if the flavor is bland. When it appears the liquid is beginning to reduce, add the tomato paste and stir for two to three minutes. The sauce will thicken. Pour in the half and half and add the parsley: keep stirring (maybe three or four minutes). The consistency should now be creamy (but not remarkably thick). If it is, then add a little more half and half until a thinner creamy consistency is achieved. Add the teaspoon of maple syrup liqueur and taste. The sauce will have a pleasant, slight sweetness. If it does not, then add more liqueur in very small amounts (maybe ¼ teaspoon at a time) until a delicate sweetness is achieved. Spoon the cooked (al dente) rigatoni onto a plate and top with the cream sauce. Buon Appetito!
NOTE: This recipe makes about four servings as an entree. For a crowd-sized meal to complement other offerings, make the entire box of pasta (16-ounces), the entire 6-ounce can of tomato paste, and one cup of cream. You will also need to add a little more liqueur to attain the slight sweetness (go slowly). Place the cooked rigatoni (coated with olive oil so it does not stick) in a generous bowl and pour the sauce on top. Mix the sauce and pasta together so that all the rigatoni is coated.