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Rotini, gemelli, cavatappi (Recipe: pasta with chunky vegetable sauce) {vegetarian}

Nothing says "pantry" like dried pasta, and the shelves of The Perfect Pantry hold every imaginable shape and size. Welcome to Italian Pasta Week, Day Two, Strange and Twisty.


True confession: my favorite pastas are the ones I call Strange and Twisty.

It's the child in me.

If I can stab it with a fork, or grab it with chopsticks (yes, I eat the strange-and-twisty stuff with chopsticks, no matter what the origin of the sauce), I will love it forever.

Rotini (spirals). Gemelli (twists). Cavatappi (corkscrews) and radiatori (little radiators). Campanelle (bells) and conchiglie (shells). The very popular penne (quills), though they are neither strange nor twisty, also belong in this category, because they relate to sauce in the same way. These are the shapes that grab hold of pesto, tapenade, and seafood-, vegetable- and meat-based toppings, and won't let go.

Sauces for the strange-and-twisty pastas definitely do not have to be Italian; in our house, Ted and I love rotini with Asian spicy meat sauce. But the Italian repertoire provides endless variations.

The strange and twisty pastas are, I think, the most difficult to cook. In an instant, they go from al dente to all mushy. Undercooked, they can be tooth-breakers, but there is nothing more sad than to lift a S&T pasta from the pot and have it disintegrate because it's been cooked for too long.

Will adding oil to the cooking water keep the pasta from clumping or sticking to the pot? According to Alton Brown, no. In I'm Just Here for the Food, he writes:

It's as simple as this: pasta is dehydrated, so it wants to be around water, especially hot water, which due to added molecular motion penetrates faster than cold. So you've got a lot of water and a lot of pasta, then you add a tablespoon or two of oil. Considering how oil and water feel about each other, I'd say that Butch and Sundance had a better chance of making it out of the Bolivian bank than that oil has of getting to first base with pasta. What about during the draining, you say? By the time you get to the sink, most of the oil's back at the surface, so it's the first thing down the drain.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water (no oil) until it is not quite al dente. Drain but do not rinse, and add the pasta to your sauce to finish cooking. In this way, the pasta will still be looking to absorb liquid, and it will draw into itself the flavor of the sauce.

Then, grab a fork, and stab away.

Pasta with chunky vegetable sauce

One of those simple sauces that make a vegetable garden worth all the work. Cut all of the vegetables into chunks approximately the same size. This is a rustic dish that adapts well to any combination of vegetables, and doubles easily to accomodate more bounty from your garden. Serves 4.


1 lb strange and twisty pasta: rotini, cavatappi, penne, conchiglie
2 Tbsp sea salt
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2 pound cremini or portobello mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp fresh basil, roughly torn
2 tsp fresh mint, leaves roughly torn
A pinch of red pepper flakes
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for topping


Bring 4-6 quarts of water to boil in a large stockpot. Add sea salt and pasta, and return to the boil. Continue to cook until two minutes less than the suggested time. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, heat 3 Tbsp olive oil. Add onion and celery and sauté briefly. Add next 7 ingredients and sauté until vegetables are just heated through. If desired, add red pepper flakes and black pepper, to taste. When the pasta is almost al dente, drain it and add to the vegetable sauce. Stir well to combine, and cook 2-3 minutes until the pasta is done. Top with cheese.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

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Oh yeah, veggies and pasta!
Just about any shape will do but the twisty curly stuff does hold the sauce so well.
Mint, I really need to remember to try it in more dishes like this. It's trying to take over our back yard and maybe if I'd use it more I control it better.

ha! i just made a big pot of pasta sauce last night- nothing fancy, just some whole tomatos, some whole foods sauce, and some good looking veggies... some for this week and for the future. frozen spaghetti sauce is part of a perfect pantry too... or perfect freezer

I like the prim-n-proper and twisty...farfalle, of course it'll never make it to first base with oil! This is a great combo of herbs w/ veggies, thanks.

Hands down, these are my favorite. Must be the swiggle shape! Although, Wagon Wheels are a close second ...

I love the way you name the pasta - strange and twisty! It's strange too that you are good at using chopstick. My Chinese-background BF can't even use chopstick properly. He eats soup noodles with fork and spoon - no comment about this :D

Tanna, mint really tastes so different when it's cooked. I've been trying to use it more with cheese and veggie dishes, especially since it's taking over my garden!

Connie, sounds like a perfect pantry dinner to me!

Callipygia, I do love farfalle. I make it with an Asian-inspired sauce of shiitakes, spinach, red pepper, chili paste and soy sauce.

TW, when I was a kid, I thought wagon wheel pasta was great. I still do.

Anh, I eat almost everything (except soup) with chopsticks -- salad, meatballs, potatoes, pasta. Don't know why, but I love eating that way.

i like the twisty ones too, better to hold all the delicious sauce with. slurp!

Sometimes I get lazy and put an extra bit of tomato juice or red wine ...and the pasta, right in the sauce, and let it all cook together. I've never had the pasta come out over done and there's more flavor in it.
Don't tell the Italians - or A.B.

The wide variety of shapes: Reminds me of moving from Wisconsin to Rhode Island, i.e. low- to high- Italian heritage. I immediately noticed the GREAT variety of shapes in the pasta aisle in the supermarkets here. For that matter, the idea of a whole pasta aisle was new. I am still enchanted with radiatore!

Aria, the twisty ones are my absolute favorites -- rotini, especially. Easiest to eat with chopsticks, I think!

Katie, what a great idea! I do this occasionally with dried rice noodles when I'm cooking something in the wok -- just add more water and let it cook down -- but I've never tried it with Italian pasta. I am sometimes a very lazy cook, so your method really appeals to me. And I won't tell a soul.....

Lucia, I feel the same way about Providence -- at Tony's Colonial on Federal Hill, you can choose from what seems like hundreds of different shapes, sizes, colors, and ingredients (wheat pasta, spinach, tomato, squid ink, etc.). What a treat!

Can't wait to see the look on Matt's face when I tell him that we are having "strange and twisty" for dinner. Our 30 year-old asparagus beds are yielding promply on the appointed date (May 1) and with a few snipped chives and some olive oil, we'll call it dinner.

Strange and twisty? Hmmm. Sounds appealing. Pasta is a wonderful blank canvas for sauces like yours. I used to join coworkers are a place called Mona Lisa in Green Bay, sadly loing gone, and we'd order the past buffet. Each type tasted different!

I did "strange and twisty" cavatappi with the tomato and olive sauce last night. Oh, YUM!!!!! I just love trying the new recipes.

i love how "1 lb strange and twisty pasta" is in the recipe itself. amazing!

Mary, you lucky duck, having your own garden asparagus! And what guy would like a strange and twisty dinner???!

Mimi, the only pasta buffet I remember fondly was at the wedding of a friend, who had these incredible pasta stations run by a very good caterer. It was truly a feast.

Pauline, glad you were able to combine the recipe from the previous post with the pasta from this one. That's the thing about pasta -- it's hard to come up with a bad combination.

Stacy, thanks -- of course I mean "strange" in a good way!

Lydia, I am enjoying this series so much. I loves me carbs :) and pasta is at the top of the list.
Do you have any special ideas for whole wheat pasta? I buy more and more of that stuff these days. Looking forward to the next installment!

The twisty pasta reminds me of Seinfeld "Fusilli - cause you're silly". I have bad memories of the wagon wheel pasta - too many primary school meals with over boiled pasta and some unidentifiable meat slop poured over it!

I admit that mushy spiral pasta has happened to me on several occasions. Excellent tip about cooking it al dente and then finishing it up in the sauce.

Lydia, these are my favorite too!

I love fusilli so much!

I like twisty, easily spiked pasta as well, penne is my favourite.

Nupur and Link, whole wheat pasta is such a different product from the regular pasta, at least in terms of cooking and flavoring it, that I'll give it a post of its very own.

Freya, I'd forgotten all about silly fusilli! School cafeteria meals, at least when I was growing up, did a disservice to many wonderful foods -- pasta, vegetables, chicken.

Lisa, mushy pasta has happened to me, too -- I taste, and taste, and then get distracted and walk away -- and then the mush happens!

Patricia, these strange and twisty pastas bring out the kids in all of us, I think.

Kelly-Jane, I love penne, too, because it can hold so much sauce inside.

Shaped pastas are particularly nice for scooping up bits of chunky sauces. Shells are perfect for this. And if you really want to turn up the fun on fusilli, go for the tri-color version.

Terry, I love the shells, too, though they are challenging for a chopstick pasta eater! Tricolor pastas are lovely.

Update on garlic in pots

Yesterday while wandering through the artist enclave lanes off Taikang Lu I spotted a porcelain pot filled to the brim with soil and garlic bulbs. It was sitting on the street near the back dooryway to a restaurant. So yes, garlic flourishes in pots!

Marcia in Shanghai

Marcia, greetings in Shanghai, and thanks so much for the garlic update.

oh, strange and twisty are my favorites too! I especially love the ones that look like lilys. They're so pretty when coated in a brightly colored sauce, like a beet sauce or carrot cream sauce!

Ann, pasta with a beet sauce sounds absolutely beautiful!

Love pasta and liked the veggie a great way to welcome spring

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