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I love Food. Cooking it. Eating it. Experiencing it. As a result, that's what this blog has evolved into: A journal of my gastronomical journeys abroad, as well as my culinary creativity at home. I hope you enjoy what I have to say, and I'd love to hear your comments... Cheers!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rigatoni with Sausage, Spinach, & Goat Cheese, by Scott Conant

There are few chefs in the world hotter than Scott Conant right now. In the span of 3 years, Scott has realized his dream restaurant, conquered multiple cities, garnered rave reviews at every turn, and gets more TV time than, well... me! All that, and, oh by the way, he got married and had his first child in that span, too. Not bad for a kid from Connecticut!

I met Scott just prior to this whirlwind of success, when we worked together on TV. He was still getting his "TV legs" about him then, but he certainly knew his way around a kitchen. I vividly recall him mapping out his career arc for me -- on a cocktail napkin! -- over hamburgers and white wine one night. And ya know what? It all came true. In seemingly no time. Good things happen to good people, and this is evidence of that statement.

Scarpetta NYC was a hit from opening night, and Scott's simple yet refined approach to Italian cuisine is a benchmark for accessible, fine dining. The Scarpetta brand now extends to Miami, Toronto, Beverly Hills, and there's an increasing presence in Las Vegas, as well.

On the media side, Scott's got a hit show on Food Network, "24 Hour Restaurant Battle," which just completed season #1, and he's a recurring guest judge on "Chopped" (he, of the now-famous "I hate raw red onions on my plate" screed!). He was just featured last night on the network's "10 Best" special, praising his spaghetti with tomato sauce as one of the country's best comfort foods. Not surprisingly, I wholeheartedly concur.
Scott was kind enough to respond instantly, when I asked him for a dish all of us could make in our homes, in hopes of capturing a bit of that Scarpetta magic (thanks, too, Irene!). I'm sure Scott would say, "Use fresh ingredients, and you can't mess this dish up. It's very straightforward." Easy for him to say, right?! But it's true, for one of the most important things I've learned from Scott is that simple and straightforward can result in sophisticated and sensational...
Rigatoni with Sausage, Spinach, and Goat Cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
¾ pound Italian sweet sausage or a combination of sweet and spicy, casings removed
¾ pounds of rigatoni
salt to taste
4 ounces spinach, well washed and dried and coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
½ pint cherry or grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and sauté until it is tender and begins to color, 10 minutes. Crumble the sausage into the pan, increase the heat to medium-high, and fully cook the sausage.

Cook the rigatoni until just shy of al dente. Before draining, reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water.

Add the spinach and tomatoes and some of the pasta cooking liquid to the sausage and cook, tossing, until the spinach has wilted. Add the pasta, half the reserved cooking liquid, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and goat cheese. Toss well and lightly smash the tomatoes. Add a bit more of the cooking liquid of needed and serve sprinkled with parsley, if you like.

Serves 4.

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