Rotelli with a Smoky Twist
Number of servings depends on amount of pasta
The Aztecs, who invented chipotles, would probably
never have imagined that they would make a fabulous sauce for Italian pasta. On a wintry
Sunday evening in February, when we hadn't found much at San Francisco's Saturday Farmers' Market, we
turned our attention to some chipotles as the focal point for building a tasty
Sunday supper. These chipotles came from Tierra
Vegetables, a year-round vendor of dried and smoked chiles. We were surprised to find
that the spicy and nutty smokiness of these peppers seemed to have a natural affinity for
pasta and that the chipotles added a spunky variation to a traditional tomato-based
Chipotle is an Aztec word meaning a smoke-cured chile. Many varieties of chiles
are used to make chipotles, so you'll find that they can vary in spiciness quite a
bit. But whatever variety of chile the producer uses to make the chipotle, the main
characteristic is its smoky flavor. You can vary the spiciness of this dish by choosing a
chile variety that suits your hotness level, while still enjoying its smokiness. Tierra
Vegetables offers many varieties of chipotles, ranging from mild to fire-alarm hot.
A simple medley of stir-fried vegetables mixed in with the pasta provides an perfect
counterbalance to this strong tasting sauce and brings the dish together. Don't omit them!
2 - 3 chipotles
1 6 oz. can good quality Italian tomato paste
1/2 - 1 tsp. dried Mexican oregano (optional)
2-3 cloves garlic
3-4 TBS olive oil
- Cut the stem end off each chipotle, then cut it in half lengthwise and remove all
the seeds. Spread open each half and press it down with the heel of your hand so that it
- Pre-heat a flat bottomed cast iron skillet. Don't add any oil - the skillet should be
dry. Have ready a spatula and tongs. When the skillet is smoking hot, place a flattened chipotle
on the skillet. Press down with a spatula to keep it flat and brown
the downside. Then flip it with the tongs and brown the other side in the same way. Brown
each side for about 15 seconds, enough to deepen the chipotle's already dark brown
color. But be careful not to burn them. If your skillet is properly hot, they will burn
- Dilute the tomato paste with enough water to make it into the consistency of the sauce
- Blanch the whole, peeled cloves of garlic in hot water
for 2-3 minutes. (The microwave is ideal for this step.)
- Crumple the browned chipotles into a blender to which you have added the blanched
garlic cloves, the olive oil and about 3/4 cup of the diluted tomato paste. Puree at high
speed until the chipotles are completely smooth. At this point you could freeze the "mother sauce" for later use.
- To complete the sauce, put this puree in a saucepan and continue to add enough diluted
tomato paste to achieve the flavor and spiciness balance that you desire. (At this point,
you could also add some Mexican oregano.)
- Cook the sauce for about 10 minutes to blend the flavors.
- Stir fry a handful of broccoli florets, shiitake mushrooms and carrots cut into
- Cook the pasta of your choice. I prefer to use a "rotelle" (a spiral shaped
pasta) for this dish. The spiral surfaces are easily coated with the sauce and provide
enough texture to offset the strong taste of the sauce.
- After draining the cooked pasta, return it to the hot cooking pot and coat the pasta
with sauce. The pasta will appear to "absorb" the sauce. Because the sauce is
smoky and spicy, be careful not to overpower the pasta with sauce. Add only enough to give
it a well-balanced flavor. Mix the stir-fried vegetables into the pasta and serve in warm
- A simple green salad tossed with a vinaigrette seasoned with toasted Mexican oregano
makes this a completely satisfying Sunday Supper.
- Tierra Vegetables: This vendor at the
San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market (http://www.saturdaymarket.com/tierra1.htm
is an excellent source for home smoked chipotles. Visit their catalog website (http://www.tierravetegables.com) to get a copy
of their catalog and to place an order.
- Chipotles: We also made this sauce with
canned Embasa brand Chipotles . These canned chipotles are packed in a
tomato puree and didn't have the delicate smokiness of the dried variety. If dried chipotles
are not available in your area, the Embasa canned variety will do, but you won't achieve
the same delicate smoky undertone that makes this sauce so fetching. The canned chipotles
are much spicier than commonly available dried varieties. I've used a combination of both
types in a sauce with flaming success!
- Browning: By browning the chipotles as described in
this recipe, the skin totally disintegrates when it is pureed so there are no tough,
inedible bits of skin in the finished sauce.
- Blanching Garlic: Blanching takes the sharp edge
off the garlic and leaves it softly pungent. In this recipe, it's essential to tone down
the natural pungency of garlic so it doesn't detract from the smokiness of the chipotles.
- Mexican Oregano: This is available in Mexican
grocery stores. It has a "wild" flavor somewhat reminiscent of marijuana and
bears little resemblance to the common oregano. I find it indispensable when making
southwestern-style dishes and usually dry-toast it to enhance its nuttiness before using
it in a dish. It adds a interesting southwestern twist to a simple vinaigrette.
- Freezing: This sauce freezes well. You can make the recipe
up this point and freeze the "mother sauce" in small containers so that it
doesn't take up much space in the freezer, then dilute it with more tomato paste when
ready to use.