Step aside spaghetti because rigatoni is the cool new kid. The noodles are like extra wide penne pasta. Rigatoni pasta really grabs sauce. Believe me, you’re going to want your noodles all up in this crazy delicious sauce.
As you can imagine by the color alone, this vibrant sauce carries the essence of the summer sun. Not to mention the aroma of fennel steam wafting through the air.
You see, the reason why this works has everything to do with synergy: from the moment the pork touches the hot oil to the moment you grate Pecorino Romano over top, you are layering flavors. It’s the kind of straight-forward dinner that your s.o. (significant other) will love you for.
The Building Blocks of a Flavorful Pepper Sauce
How Salt and Sugar Affect Flavor
Salt is a well known flavor enhancer, making sugar the over-looked younger sibling. It sounds strange, but sugar has the unique ability to unlock more of the sweet dimension of tomatoes and peppers during the cooking process. Don’t just take my word for it. Try it for yourself.
I’m confident that once you experience what sugar can do for your savory cooking, you will reach for it as instinctively as salt. In this recipe, tomatoes are graced with…dun-dun-dun-dun…coconut sugar. Similar to brown sugar, coconut sugar is intensely robust and good enough to lick off the palm of your hand.
Star Ingredient: peppers
Flavor Affinities: TOMATO + PORK + FENNEL + PEPPERS
Tastes: sweet, spicy, savory, tangy
Textures: saucy, chewy
Wisdom: A reduction of fresh summer peppers and tomatoes becomes intensely flavorful with layers of seasoning from beginning to end.
Pork is a natural choice for tomatoes and peppers. Consider the classic example of sausage pizza. As it turns out, you already know peppers, tomatoes, fennel, and pork are flavor affinities. Sometimes, when I am looking for inspiration, I take what I already know and try to re-construct it into something new.
The last thing I will leave you with is this: always salt from the beginning to the middle…to the very end. When you use salt in the beginning of this recipe (like all recipes), you need less of it. Your taste buds will thank you.
Rigatoni with Pork and Peppers
- 8 oz Rigatoni, or penne
- 3 tbsp olive oil, extra virgin
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp coconut sugar, or brown sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 pound cherry tomatoes
- 8 oz mild peppers, such as fresno or baby bell peppers
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 oz parmesan, freshly grated
- 2 oz Pecorino Romano, freshly grated
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- Fill a large pot 3/4 full with water and add 3 large pinches of kosher salt. Bring to a boil and add rigatoni. Stir to prevent sticking, then cook until tender all the way through. Strain.
- Begin building the sauce in a large pan over medium heat. Start by adding olive oil and cook the pork for a few minutes. Stir every so often to break up the size of the ground pork – browning is a good thing.
- Season the pork as it cooks with a pinch of salt, fennel seeds, paprika, and cayenne. Stir and cook for 2 minutes. Add coconut sugar and 1 tsp salt and heat another minute.
- Slice the peppers and discard the stems (keep the seeds though). Layer the cherry tomtoes and peppers into the pan and stir. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes until the tomatoes and peppers are VERY tender and juicy.
- Add minced garlic and shave the Parmesan over the pan using a microplane or the small holes of a cheese grater. Then add the rigatoni and cover to steam the noodles a bit (2 minutes).
- Shave lemon zest and Pecorino Romano over the pasta in layers of 3. For example, shave a bit and cook 1 minute. Then stir. Shave some more, cook 1 minute. Then stir. Serve right away.
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