I mysteriously received a beautiful cookbook called The Organic Cook's Bible in my school mailbox, which I later learned was a birthday gift from my dear friend Annie. The hefty unit boasts not only tasty recipes, but also extensive information about a wealth of ingredients - produce, spices, and herbs, to name a few - and tips on how to select the freshest variants. It seemed appropriate that we cooked the "Pasta with Hunter's Sauce" while in New Haven - Claire Criscuolo, chef and owner of the city's popular vegetarian restaurant Claire's Corner Copia, submitted the recipe.
This was the first time Andrew and I tried a new recipe while cooking for other people - we'd asked Andrew's friends Luke and Becca if they'd like to join us for our experimental dinner. The recipe seemed simple enough - straightforward ingredients, the standard requisite chopping and sauteing - yet stress levels rose when realized we hadn't allotted enough time for the essential cooking down and simmering processes. The primary ingredients in the sauce were plump red, yellow, and orange peppers - five to be exact, they were chopped in medium sized pieces and sauteed with coarsely chopped garlic and red onion, and small measurements of fennel seeds, crushed red pepper flakes, minced rosemary leaves, and salt and pepper for spicy flavor. What initially looked like an inordinately large amount of vegetables - reminiscent of our Thanksgiving stuffing ingredient portions - cooked down a remarkable amount once the peppers softened, a fifteen minute step we anxiously monitored. Next came the cans of whole peeled tomatoes, which we crushed by hand as we added their fragrant flesh and rich juice to the already-vibrant pot. To our dismay, the sauce now had to simmer for half an hour to allow the sizable tomato chunks to cook down, and some of the liquid to thicken. As the sauce entered its final stages, we cooked the pasta with flawless timing, for a change - the rigatoni were delicately al dente, and when added to the sauce pot, the wide tubes absorbed the hearty liquid and provided a welcome space for the tender pepper pieces to nestle. The final product - a little behind schedule, I'll admit - was toothsome, the hearty fresh pepper and tomato flavors fusing with the distinctive herb tastes for a satisfying savory combination. The pasta accompanied by plain ciabatta and our - rather, my mother's - signature salad of spinach, thinly sliced fennel, tart green apple bits, and creamy avocado chunks coated with the classic mustard-shallot vinaigrette provided the delectable sustenance necessary for a most enjoyable, lengthy dinner with excellent company.