I just had a stroke of inspiration to add pureed roasted red bell peppers to my favorite quickie pasta dish. I’ll always love the original, but this one’s a keeper too!
Penne with Tomato-Pepper Sauce & Fresh Mozzarella
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 roasted red bell peppers
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
Generous pinch red chile flakes, optional
26 ounces strained tomatoes, preferably Pomì brand
3 to 4 large sprigs basil, plus chiffonaded leaves for serving
1 pound penne rigate
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, drained and diced
Grated Parmegiano-Reggiano, for serving
Combine the cream and bell peppers in a blender and blend until smooth. Heat a large, heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and chile flakes, if desired, and sauté for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the bell pepper mixture, tomatoes, and basil sprigs. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 18 to 20 minutes, or until thickened and saucy.
Meanwhile, cook the penne in a large pot of boiling, salted water according to the package directions. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper and discard the basil sprigs. Drain the penne when it is al dente. Immediately add the penne to the sauce and toss to combine. Remove from the heat, let cool for a few minutes, and stir in the mozzarella. Arrange on individual plates, top with plenty of Parmegiano and basil, and serve immediately.
Makes 4 to 6 servings. The red bell peppers make this the reddest red sauce you’ve ever seen. It's a variation of another even simpler pasta dish I make; to try it, just omit the bell peppers but still add the cream. Fresh mozzarella balls come in a variety of sizes, and if you want a shortcut, look for pearlini, which are so small they don’t even need to be diced. Be sure to let the pasta cool a bit before adding the mozzarella, or it will melt into a gooey mess. It also helps if the mozzarella is cold when it goes in. This is a satisfying vegetarian dish, but my husband, who is decidedly not vegetarian, kept insisting that we should've added Italian sausage. I must admit that sounds good too.