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COOKING | MAGAZINE

Three favorite pasta recipes

Fans of Milk Street share their own dishes, including a pureed red pepper sauce with rigatoni, tomatoes, and butternut squash and an elegant saffron-scented sauce.

Rigatoni With Tomato, Butternut, and Red Pepper Puree.Connie Miller/of CB Creatives

Between all of us at Milk Street, we’ve been to Italy a dozen times in search of interesting pasta combinations to pass along to readers. But sometimes, our readers teach us, too. At the Milk Street Facebook Community, we heard from one fan who makes a pureed red pepper pasta sauce that’s rich and velvety even without cream, which he then tosses with rigatoni, tomatoes, and butternut squash. Using a few pantry ingredients, another reader makes an easy but elegant saffron-scented sauce for spaghetti with canned tomatoes, dried oregano, and crème fraîche. And another makes a bold, briny puttanesca sauce with canned tuna, red pepper flakes, and chopped olives.

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Rigatoni With Tomato, Butternut, and Red Pepper Puree

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Milk Street Facebook Community member James Adcock blends sautéed onion, canned whole tomatoes, steamed butternut squash, and roasted and peeled red bell peppers until smooth, then simmers the sauce to bring the flavors together. Our version, perfect for a weeknight, cooks the squash with the tomatoes and uses store-bought roasted peppers. We think the sauce is a great match for tube-shaped ridged pastas such as rigatoni, ziti rigati, or penne rigate, but it also is good on cheese ravioli or tortellini.

The roasted peppers needn’t be chopped since they’re going into the blender for pureeing. And don’t worry if the squash begins to fall apart as it cooks because it, too, will be blended.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ medium yellow onion, chopped

Kosher salt and ground white pepper

14 ounces peeled and seeded butternut squash, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 2½ cups)

1 14½-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand

1 cup drained roasted red peppers

1 pound rigatoni, ziti rigati, or penne rigate

½ cup lightly packed fresh basil, roughly chopped

Finely grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

In a 12-inch skillet set over medium-high heat, warm the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes. Add the squash, tomatoes with juices, ½ cup water, and ¼ teaspoon white pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until a skewer inserted into the squash meets no resistance, about 20 minutes.

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Off heat, stir in the roasted peppers and let cool, uncovered, for about 5 minutes. Transfer the tomato-squash mixture to a blender. Blend until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping the blender as needed.

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to a boil. Stir in the pasta and 1 tablespoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until just shy of al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the puree and ¼ cup reserved water, then cook over medium heat, stirring constantly and adding more reserved water as needed, until the pasta is al dente and the sauce clings to the noodles, 2 to 3 minutes. Off heat, taste and season with salt and white pepper, then stir in the basil. Serve sprinkled with Parmesan.

Spaghetti With Tomato-Saffron SauceConnie Miller/of CB Creatives

Spaghetti With Tomato-Saffron Sauce

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Another member, Clare Hardy, infuses allium-accented tomatoes with the one-of-a-kind fragrance and flavor of saffron, then enriches the sauce at the end with crème fraîche. Hardy uses finely chopped tomatoes sold in a carton (aseptic packaging); we found that canned crushed tomatoes have a similar texture and tend to be more widely available in supermarkets. The recipe calls for spaghetti, but just about any pasta shape works nicely.

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The saffron threads need to be bloomed in ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water; this helps fully extract their flavor and aroma. Also, sour cream is not a good substitute for the crème fraîche. Sour cream is lower in fat, so its taste and consistency are thinner, and it will break when heated.

1 pound spaghetti

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon saffron threads

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 medium garlic cloves, minced

2 medium shallots, finely chopped

2 tablespoons dry vermouth or white wine

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes or 26.5-ounce carton finely chopped tomatoes

½ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ cup crème fraîche

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to a boil. Stir in the pasta and 1 tablespoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until just shy of al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain. In a small bowl, stir together ¼ cup of the reserved water and the saffron; set aside.

In a 12-inch skillet set over medium heat, combine the oil, garlic, and shallots. Cook, stirring often, until the aromatics are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add the vermouth and scrape up any browned bits, then stir in the tomatoes, oregano, and saffron water, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Stir in the crème fraîche, then add the spaghetti and cook, stirring constantly and adding more reserved water as needed, until the pasta is al dente and the sauce clings to the noodles, 2 to 3 minutes. Off heat, taste and season with salt and pepper.

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Orecchiette Puttanesca With Tuna and White BeansConnie Miller/of CB Creatives

Orecchiette Puttanesca With Tuna and White Beans

Makes 4 to 6 servings

This hearty pasta dinner is from member Karen Waldman. Bold, briny puttanesca sauce finds delicious partners in creamy white beans and flaked tuna. This recipe is a one-pot wonder. First we boil the pasta, drain it, then use the same pot to make the sauce. Waldman prefers orecchiette pasta because the small saucer shapes catch bits of the olives, capers, and tuna. She also likes to keep the consistency on the “soupy” side; stir in additional pasta water at the end to adjust the consistency to suit your taste.

Be sure to rinse and drain the beans. If their starchy liquid makes it into the pot, it will turn the sauce thick and heavy. And, don’t worry about removing the garlic cloves after they’re lightly browned. They’ll soften and break apart slightly as the sauce cooks.

1 pound orecchiette

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more to serve

2 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 cup pitted green or black olives (or a combination), roughly chopped

¼ cup drained capers, rinsed and patted dry

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand

1 15½-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 5-ounce can olive oil-packed tuna, drained and flaked

1/3 cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

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In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to a boil. Stir in the pasta and 1 tablespoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until just shy of al dente. Reserve 2½ cups of the cooking water, then drain.

In the same pot over medium heat, combine the oil and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is light golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Add the pepper flakes, olives, and capers. Increase to medium-high heat and cook, stirring, until the capers begin to brown, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes with juices along with the beans, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is slightly thickened, 3 to 4 minutes.

Stir in 1½ cups of the reserved water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the orecchiette and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente, 2 to 4 minutes; add more reserved water if needed to thin. Taste and season with salt and black pepper. Off heat, stir in the tuna and parsley. Serve drizzled with additional oil.


Christopher Kimball is the founder of Milk Street, home to a magazine, school, and radio and television shows. Globe readers get 12 weeks of complete digital access, plus two issues of Milk Street print magazine, for just $1. Go to 177milkstreet.com/globe. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.