Cooking pasta by the absorption method instead of boiling in a gallon of salted water may seem scary if you grew up with noodle orthodoxy, but it actually works great and can be a big time saver. You don’t have to wait for water to boil, and you don’t necessarily have two pots to clean at the end if you design your sauce and condiment to be built in with the pasta.
For this recipe, I toast the capellini in the oven first. This is characteristic of how pasta is handled in Spain, Mexico (where they are called fideos), and the Middle East. I enjoy the additional browned flavors. You can do this while preparing and sautéing your vegetables.
The flavor of this dish is quite assertive, with substantial quantities of red wine, black pepper, smoked paprika and garlic. It isn’t one I would necessarily recommend for young children or those who prefer milder tastes.
Because we are cooking tomatoes and zucchini along with the noodles, you’ll need less initial liquid than you might expect. Instead, we’ll have you check along the way and add more as needed. Also note that we reserve some of the tomatoes for garnish. I love to include an ingredient both fresh and raw in the same dish so we get to experience the full range of its flavors.
Peppery Red Wine Capellini
Vegetarian and vegan
1 lb. capellini (angel hair) noodles
3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large white onion, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 lbs. zucchini, 1/2” dice
1 small bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2” lengths
1.5 cup cherry tomatoes, halved, divided
1 Tbs. smoked paprika (pimenton de la vera)
1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 Tbs. fresh oregano leaves
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
salt to taste
1-1/4 cups red wine (Tempranillo is a nice choice)
lots of minced fresh parsley for garnish
Preheat the oven to 375°. Break the capellini into approximately 3” lengths. Toast on a baking sheet, tossing occasionally with tongs, for about 12 minutes, until golden brown.
Meanwhile, in a large pot with a lid (at least 5.5 quarts), heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Cook the onion and garlic with a pinch of salt for 5 minutes, allowing them only to soften and grow aromatic, but not burn. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the zucchini and another pinch of salt. Sauté, browning until the noodles come out of the oven.
Add the noodles on top of the zucchini mixture. Put the asparagus and two-thirds of the cherry tomatoes on top of that and sprinkle in the smoked paprika, black pepper, cayenne pepper, oregano and rosemary. Pour the red wine and 1-1/4 cups of water over the top. Toss as best you can with tongs, but it will be hard at first because the noodles are stiff. Return the heat to medium and cover.
Every 3 minutes, remove the top and toss. The total cooking time will probably be about 8-12 minutes. Toward the end, taste a noodle each time you remove the top to see if it is done. If not, and there isn’t any moisture left on the bottom, add a bit more wine or water (maybe 1/3 cup).
When the noodles are done to your liking, make any final adjustments to the seasoning and transfer to serving bowls. Garnish with the remaining uncooked cherry tomatoes and parsley, and another grind of fresh black pepper.
Serves 4 as a main course.