Penne “Risotto(s)”

December 9, 2009

Quill, n. An implement of torture yielded by a goose and commonly wielded by an ass; this use of the quill is now obsolete, but its modern equivalent, the steel pen, is wielded by the same everlasting Presence.
~Ambrose Bierce

Penne, the plural form of the Italian word for “quill,” are produced in two main variants, penne lisce (smooth) and penne rigate (furrowed), the latter having ridges on each noodle which tends to capture sauce more readily. In these incarnations, cylinder shaped penne is cooked risotto style in lieu of the conventional boiled in salted water method. Rather, these pastas are browned lightly in olive oil, then cooked leisurely and gradually in ladlefuls—gently stirring and tossing the penne throughout the process until just al dente and luxuriantly veiled with aromatic sauce. You may just as easily substitute other similar pastas, such as fusilli or gemelli.


4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Herbes de Provence
3 T extra virgin olive oil

8-10 C chicken stock

3 C crimini and shiitake (stemmed) mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T fresh tarragon, minced

1 lb penne rigate
3/4 C dry white wine
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t white truffle oil

Chopped fresh tarragon
Capers, rinsed and drained
Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano

Season the chicken thighs with salt, pepper and herbes de provence. Heat a heavy skillet over medium high heat with olive oil. When hot, add chicken thighs and cook until done, about 4 minutes per side. Do not overcook as they will be heated again some at the end. Remove chicken, slice 1/4″ thick, tent and set aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the stock and keep at a constant simmer.

Heat the oil and butter in a large deep skillet or Dutch oven over moderate heat until hot, but not smoking. Add the mushrooms, season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté until browned and the juices begin to exude, around 4-5 minutes. Sprinkle the mushrooms with minced tarragon, toss and set aside. Wipe out the skillet with paper towels.

Pour the remaining olive oil into the skillet over medium high heat. When hot and shimmering, add pasta to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy and begins to just slightly brown on the edges, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the wine and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Then in a slow, continuous risotto-reminiscent process, slowly ladle hot stock into the skillet a ladle at a time, stirring after each addition. When the stock is just about to evaporate, add another ladle and so on…until the pasta is al dente, about 16-18 minutes.

When pasta is about 1-2 minutes away from being done, add chicken, mushrooms and truffle oil; stir to heat and combine. If necessary, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to your liking. Serve in shallow soup bowls garnished with tarragon, capers and parmigiano-reggiano.


1 C good quality italian sausage, casings removed
1 T extra virgin olive oil

8 -10 C chicken stock

1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and smashed slightly

1 lb dried penne rigate

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 T tomato paste
2 T finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

Red peppers flakes, to taste
2 T red wine vinegar

Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
Fresh basil, cut into ribbons

Heat olive oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Stir in the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until barely no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Do not overcook as it will briefly cook some at the end. Remove with slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and set aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the stock and keep at a constant simmer.

In a large, deep heavy skillet heat the olive oil over moderately high heat. When it is hot and shimmering but not smoking, add the garlic and heat until only golden brown, pressing the cloves all over the surface to subtly flavor and perfume the oil. Do not burn or you will have a restart on your hands. Remove and discard the garlic.

Then, add the pasta, stirring occasionally until the pasta begins to brown lightly around the edges, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomato paste and the rosemary, stirring constantly until the pasta is evenly coated. Slowly add a ladleful of stock, stirring until most of the liquid is absorbed. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. The pasta should cook slowly and should always be covered in at least a light film of stock. Continue adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring frequently and tasting regularly, until the pasta is tender and al dente, about 16-18 minutes.

Add the already cooked sausage, red pepper, red wine vinegar, and toss gently for a minute or so. Serve in bowls, generously sprinkle with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano and garnish with basil ribbons.


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