Monday, July 24, 2017

Pasta with Marinara, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, and Burrata

Making decisions on what to eat or not to eat on the mornings as well as the night before a long run or race has been a bit of an ongoing challenge for me. There are no shortage of recommendations or schools of thought about what one's body needs or what the protein to carbohydrate ratio should be in order to sustain intense and/or extended periods of exercise. I have read about and tinkered with most of them. Learning all too well that what works for some doesn't always work for others. Especially for those like me with overly sensitive stomachs. No matter what the most accomplished athletes or coaches prescribe as 'optimal performance foods', it turns out following the most prevailing wisdom, aka 'listen to your body,' may be the best pre- and post-run/workout advice out there. My food choices go through phases depending on a number of variables. Eating pasta the night before a long run seems to be working best at the moment. I couldn't be happier. 

For the past ten weeks I have been just one of cadre of committed runners helping to support a group of amazing women training for either a 5k or 10k race. Everyone who joined this running group came with at least one personal goal. They ranged from improving their running performance and/or endurance; to supporting their return to running after an extended period of absence; to getting physically and mentally ready to run a race. The newest members to the group learned more than good running form; the importance of speed/hill work and cross training; and/or why nutrition matters. They discovered the running group was more than a venue to become a better runner or to experience the benefits of being supported during a run. It was a place where great friendships are formed and where both small and big successes are celebrated. The intangible outcomes of being part of this running group almost outweigh its' tangible benefits. 

This past weekend we all ran either the 5k or 10k culminating race. It just happened the race was on one of the hottest, most humid days of the summer thus far. And while there had been some hot/humid training days, nothing came close to this runner's worst race days fears. Full sun, little to no wind, and temperatures/humidity soaring to incredibly high, warning levels. In spite of the running conditions and a series of unexpected hills on the course, everyone successfully finished their race. The best part of the day for me was being with the women I had been running with for the past ten weeks. Unbeknownst to them, they made me, the hot weather wimptress, want to keep my 'running head' in the game. For my part, I made certain I ate what I thought my body needed the night before the race. The Pasta with Marinara, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, and Burrata may have been the best pre-race meal I have ever eaten. But I won't even tell you what my post-race food and beverage intake was as it violated almost all of the post-race food advice out there or how much fun sitting in a kiddie pool filled with ice cold water with four of my running friends was. But I couldn't have been happier.

There are so many rave worthy things about this pasta dish. One of them had to do with the choice of pasta. I absolutely love long, on the wider side pasta noodles. Tagliatelle, a long, flat pasta ribbon, was the perfect choice. They are slightly wider than fettuccine and much thinner than pappardelle. Instead of water, tagliatelle noodles are made with eggs. As a result they have a slightly higher absorbency quality, making them one that stands well to a variety of sauces (e.g., bolognese, carbonara). And they were the perfect choice for this pasta dish. 

Adding roasted cherry tomatoes to this pasta dish not only adds an amazing flavor and texture dimension, they make for even more visually appealing one as well. Drizzled with some olive oil and seasoned with kosher salt and pepper, the tomatoes are roasted in a 400 degrees (F) for approximately 20 minutes (or until they begin to blister). Roasting the tomatoes at a high temperature for a relatively short amount of time turns them into incredible bursts of flavor.

The recipe for this slightly chunky, deeply flavored marinara sauce was inspired by one of Lidia Bastianich's recipes. Unlike a more complex tomato sauce, a marinara comes together relatively quickly relying on very few ingredients to give it a deep, rich flavor.  Instead of using cans of plum tomatoes and crushing them by hand, this marinara uses cans of crushed tomatoes.You might think the use of 16-18 cloves of garlic would overpower this marinara sauce. But it doesn't. Sautéing the chopped garlic in extra-virgin olive oil until they are pale golden in color tames their bitterness and transforms them into sweet bites of goodness. After the sauce simmers for 20-30 minutes, remove a generous cup from the pan as this recipe yields more sauce than you need to coat the tagliatelle. The extra sauce can be heated and served on the side for those who love a heavily dressed plate of pasta, used to lightly coat meatballs (if you are also making them) or reserved for another use. 

When the tagliatelle reaches al dente, it's drained and added to the simmering marinara sauce. Remember to reserve at least a cup of the pasta water. It will ever so slightly smooth the sauce as well as help to continue to cook the pasta after it's mixed into the sauce. Be sparring with the use of the pasta water as you still want this marinara to retain its' slightly chunky texture. Note: I added less than 1/4 cup of the pasta water to the sauce.

After the tagliatelle is completely coated with the marinara sauce, add half of the roasted tomatoes and all of the roasting juices from the pan. Gently stir and then pour the pasta into your serving dish. Top with chards of the burrata cheese and some additional chopped basil. To finish, drizzle some extra-virgin olive oil over the top. This Pasta with Marinara, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, and Burrata is now ready to wow your family and friends. 

The addition of the roasted cherry tomatoes and burrata along with use of the tagliatelle pasta creates a most beautiful, most flavorful bowl of pasta. One certain to make a lasting impression on everyone's eyes and palates. Paired with a salad and some great bread, the Pasta with Marinara, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, and Burrata is hearty enough to be an incredibly satisfying meal. Bring a great bottle of wine (or two, depending on your friends) to the table and it's possible no one will leave your dinner table until every last morsel of the pasta has been devoured. No one will be happier.

Pasta with Marinara, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, and Burrata (marinara recipe influenced by Lidia Bastianich)
Serves: 6 hungry or 8 not so hungry people

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus additional for finishing)
14-16 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
2 cans of San Marzano crushed tomatoes (28 ounce size)
2 to 3 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Kosher salt (or more to your liking)
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo red pepper
12-16 fresh basil leaves, sliced into slivers (plus additional leaves for garnishing)

16-18 ounces cherry tomatoes
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper

1 pound tagliatelle pasta 
12 ounces burrata 

Marinara Sauce
1. Heat extra virgin olive oil in a heavy deep saucepan.  Add garlic and cook until lightly browned.
2. Add crushed tomatoes and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce heat, add salt, Aleppo pepper flakes and sugar. Simmer until slightly thickened. Approximately 20-30 minutes.
4. Add slivered basil to sauce about 5 minutes before the sauce is finished.
5. Remove a generous cup of the marinara sauce and set aside.

Roasted Tomatoes
1. While marinara sauce is simmering, heat oven to 400 degrees (F). 
2. Place tomatoes in a roasting dish or pan. Drizzle with 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.
3. Roast tomatoes for approximately 20 minutes or until tomatoes begin to blister. Reserve drippings.

Pasta and Assembly.
1. Cook pasta in salted water until al dente (the cooking time for the tagliatelle was approximately 5-6 minutes). Reserve at least one cup of the pasta water after draining. 
2. Add drained pasta to the marinara sauce, add a ladle of the reserved pasta water (or enough until it reaches a desired consistency), toss until the pasta is coated and simmer for additional 1-2 minutes. This additional cooking time will bring the pasta to the perfect consistency.
3. Transfer pasta to serving bowl. Toss in half of the roasted tomatoes and all of the tomato juice drippings from the roasting pan. 
4. Arrange remaining half of the roasted tomatoes over the pasta.
5. Cut burrata into pieces and place on top of pasta.
6. Lightly drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Garnish with additional chopped basil. Serve immediately.

Notes: (1) Marinara sauce can be made a day ahead. Reheat before adding the cooked, drained pasta. Can use some of the pasta water to thin the sauce. (2) Can serve the generous reserved cup of marinara sauce on the side, use to coat meatballs if making, or save for another use. (3) If you can't find tagliatelle pasta, consider using linguine, fettuccine or pappardelle pasta for this dish.

One view of Chicago's skyline, an iconic building, the L-train, and the Buckingham Fountain, taken while an architectural boat tour (June, 2017)

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