Experiment: Penne with Pork and Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Last week, I made Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic Sauce for my Naan Pizza experiment and I still had a cup or so left over. I thought of a couple of potential uses for it but, as I am travelling tomorrow, I decided to use the whole remaining batch in a pasta sauce as I don’t think it well keep until my return.

I decided on thinly sliced pork as the meat component and, for a nice color balance, I settled on some baby spinach I had left over from a recent Steamed Beef Balls experiment. I also thought about maybe adding some sort of mushrooms for additional color and flavor but I eventually decided that anything else other than some nice Romano cheese might be overkill. On later reflection, as will be apparent in the verdict below, I maybe should have listened to my initial impulse….

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Penne (or up to 2 ½ cups)
  • 3 -4 cups Baby Spinach
  • 1 – ½ cups Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
  • Heavy Cream (about 2 tbsp. or so)
  • 1 lb. (or so) of nice pork cutlet
  • A few tiny tomatoes
  • Romano Cheese (about 3 tbsp. grated to cook with and more for after)
  • Salt and Pepper (about ½ tsp. each, or to taste)
  • 3 tbsp. butter (not shown)
  • Olive oil for cooking and marinating (not shown)

The recipe list, as you can see, is fairly simple. The spinach may look like a lot but it will reduce to very little after blanching and, in fact, if I had more I would actually use about the same amount again. I have been a little vague about the amounts of seasoning, butter and cream to be used, but a lot will depend on the saltiness and thickness of the red pepper sauce you start with. This is just something that needs to be played ‘by ear’, so to speak…

Preliminary Preparation

First, trim the meat of fat then, if you have thick cutlets like mine, slice them in half lengthwise. Pound out the halves until half as thick again and then cut into pieces about twice the size of a postage stamp. In the picture above, you can see a whole cutlet, one divided and left whole, and the remaining divided, with both halves pounded and one cut into pieces. When you have finished cutting them all, put the pieces into a bowl mix with a splash of olive oil and about half the salt and pepper.

Next, blanch the spinach in salted water for a few seconds and refresh in cold water. Squeeze out the leaves of as much water as possible and then slice them into shreds. As you can see, the process leaves very little actual vegetable. Use more if you like.

De-seed and de-pulp the tomatoes and slice the remaining flesh into strips. Set these aside with the spinach.

The Final Execution

Put a big pot of salted water on high and, when it comes to the boil, add your penne. Cook until it is al dente and then drain. Put the pasta in a large bowl with the spinach and tomato, the remaining salt and pepper, and two tablespoons of butter. Mix well and set aside.

Bring a large sauté pan to high and add a tablespoon or so of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the meat and stir-fry until it is cooked through and no pink remains.

 Add the roasted pepper sauce, the remaining butter and a tablespoon or two of cream, and stir until the sauce starts to thicken and a few oil droplets appear. Add the pasta mixture, several gratings of cheese, and stir until the pasta is well coated. Plate, and garnish with sprigs of parsley, if desired, and pass extra Romano cheese at the table.

 

The Verdict

Well, folks…  I promised in my intro to ‘Experiments and Recipes’ that I would be honest about my failures and this was one of them… It wasn’t that the dish tasted bad, or anything; the problem was, it really didn’t taste of much at all. It was bland, boring and totally lacking in any sort of ‘oomph’.

My dear wife, ever the diplomat, ventured to opine that it somehow reminded her vaguely of cat-food; although, how she is able to make that comparison I didn’t care to ask. I do note for the record, however, that she actually finished her helping while I barely picked at mine.

The culprit here was the roasted pepper sauce. It worked just fine on my Naan Pizza, and is lovely tasted alone, but as a pasta sauce it sadly came across as flat and lacking in any high-notes. The expensive Romano Cheese I grated into the sauce was too subtle to help here and this is one occasion where an ‘El Cheapo’ Parmesan of the cardboard canister variety might have been better. Some Feta Cheese, and maybe a few green olives, might have provided enough salty tang to save this effort from mediocrity, possibly, but I’m not even sure about that.

Back to the drawing board on this one, I think 😦

 

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