By Joe Yonan
The Washington Post
When vegetarians tell me they're in a cooking rut, I tell them to try one or all of the following strategies: Go global, go seasonal, go spicy.
By going global, I mean to look around at other cultures' traditions, vegetarian and otherwise, and incorporate their spices and blends and recipes. By going seasonal, I mean to pay attention not only to the vegetables that are freshest in the market but also to the items in your pantry (say, at the end of a loooooong winter) that match the weather and your mood. Finally, it's obvious what I mean by going spicy: Whenever my palate is fatigued, there's nothing like some good old chili-fied heat to wake it up.
All of which is to say that in late March, when we had yet another snowstorm in the mid-Atlantic, David Joachim's new book, "Cooking Light Global Kitchen," landed like a beacon on my desk. It's not vegetarian per se, but almost 40 percent of the recipes are meatless (and half of those are vegan), covering such far-flung traditions as bibimbap (Korea), empanadas (South America), stuffed eggplant (Middle East), samosas (India), pizza (Italy) and more.
One particular dish in the Middle East/Africa chapter stood out, because it satisfies each one of the three strategies I mentioned earlier. It's chef Marcus Samuelsson's take on pasta saltata, an Ethiopian dish (tied to the nation's brief Italian occupation) that combines pasta with potatoes and a spicy, tangy, rich-but-light sauce.
The harissa is the kicker, literally; it pulls everything together with a punch. I made the dish twice -- once for dinner and again for the camera the next morning. Or so I told myself. The truth is, I couldn't get enough.
Red Whole-Wheat Penne
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 pound (2 medium) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup blanched whole almonds
1 large shallot lobe, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons harissa (see headnote)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
12 ounces dried whole-wheat penne
1/4 cup chopped arugula
1/4 cup chopped basil leaves
Cover the potatoes with water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium or medium-low so the water is bubbling gently; cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and reserve the cooking water. Cool the potatoes slightly; cut into 1/2-inch pieces.
Pour 1 tablespoon of the oil into a small skillet over low heat. Add the almonds, shallot and garlic; cook, stirring frequently, until the almonds are golden brown and the shallot and garlic are tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat to cool a bit.
Scrape the almond mixture into a food processor. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, along with the lemon juice, cheese, harissa and salt; puree until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add 1 1/2 cups of the reserved cooking water; puree until smooth.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the penne and cook according to the package directions, just until al dente. Drain; immediately toss in a large bowl with the potatoes and sauce. Fold in the arugula.
Divide among individual plates. Sprinkle with the basil, and serve hot.
Nutrition per serving: 420 calories, 14 g protein, 58 g carbohydrates, 18 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 450 mg sodium, 9 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar.