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 (hello, dukkah) and recipes (hello, dal). 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 sauce includes almonds, lemon, Parmigiano-Reggiano and harissa, the North African chili paste.
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
4 to 6 servings
This modern version of the classic dish pasta saltata is a result of the brief Italian occupation of Ethiopia. Harissa, a chili paste, can be found at specialty markets. Adapted from “Cooking Light Global Kitchen” by David Joachim.
1 pound (2 medium) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup blanched whole almonds
1 large shallot lobe, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons harissa
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
12 ounces dried whole-wheat penne
¼ cup chopped arugula
¼ cup chopped basil leaves
Cover the potatoes with water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high. Reduce to medium or medium-low and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and reserve the cooking water. Cool the potatoes slightly; cut into ½-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 mixture into a food processor. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, with the lemon juice, cheese, harissa and salt; puree until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add 1½ cups of the reserved cooking water; puree until smooth.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high. Add the penne and cook according to the package directions. Drain; toss in a large bowl with the potatoes and sauce. Fold in the arugula. Divide among plates. Sprinkle with the basil and serve hot.