27 January 2013

Jalapeno Pepper Pasta

Long, long ago I taught three year-olds at an early childhood development center.  And they did not like bell peppers because "peppers are hot".  Last week I went to grab fajitas with a co-worker, who ordered hers without peppers because "peppers are hot".  Typically, I laugh manically and try to explain that bell peppers are pretty much the opposite of hot.  Sweet, fresh and bright are better words to describe their flavor.  However, there are times when my little three's class and co-workers are right...and peppers are hot.  Jalapeno, habanero and serrano will all set your mouth ablaze.  It just so happens that the hubs and I love both bell and hot peppers.  So it is with fond recollection of these individuals that I bring you this recipe tonight.  We're making bell peppers hot, folks.

As mentioned before, we love peppers in all forms.  The fabulous sweetness of bell peppers is perfect for raw crunching with hummus, pesto, in a salad or flying solo.  When roasted or grilled, the sweetness is amplified and a wonderful, rotund flavor develops.  To me, it seems to caramelize the flesh of the fruit (yes, peppers are a fruit - they have seeds and grow on a vine!), intensifying the existing flavors.  

Jalapenos are a different matter.  These little guys are like a deceptive green pepper.  Their flesh is actually quite mild and flavorful....but those sneaky little seeds hiding inside hold all the capsaicin, or fiery heat.  Even though jalapenos in the lower half of the heat scale (*cough* Scoville....thank you very much Sensation & Perception in Psychology course in college), they still pack enough pep to knock you around a bit.   Get them in your mouth, eyes or nose and you will be panting, weeping and sniffling for quite a while.  Gloves are very handy when handling with your hands.

So we've talked about bell peppers and jalapeno peppers.  But the pepper doesn't end there....oh no, sir.  Tri-color rotini add the color spectrum of green, red and yellow bell peppers while apparently providing a half serving of vegetables.  Just in case a full bell pepper per person isn't enough.  And they also make a guest appearance in the delicious chicken sausages, courtesy of our local market.  If you're able to find them, jalapeno and cheese stuffed chicken sausages are perfect here.  If you can find them, I can't recommend them highly enough.  If not, I recommend going with a non-Italian style chicken or turkey sausage.  We found the fennel often in the Italian style is a bit overpowering and does not go well with this dish.  But the light meaty flavor of turkey or chicken is perfect.

We love this dinner.  Sweet and succulent bell peppers, tender rotini and savory sausage all work together to balance with the heat of the jalapeno.  You're left with mouthfuls of sweet and hearty goodness with a lingering spice that lasts between each bite, intensifying on the finish.  With so many good flavors going on, a minimalistic butter sauce is all that's needed to bring the dish together.  We've tried cream sauces, but found that butter is all you need.  It adds just a touch of fatty richness that rounds out the flavor and helps cool the mouth a bit.  

We like to serve this over a bed of lightly grilled kale.  It makes the green pop a bit more and also helps to cut the heat a bit more.  You can use whatever color of bell peppers you prefer or have on hand (this time we used yellow and orange, but we've used red in the past as well).  And feel free to adjust the heat as you see fit.  This time we were feeling extra spicy and went with a full quarter cup of jalapeno...yee-haw!  Ice cream helps to dispel the remaining heat, so be sure to have that on hand for dessert.

I guess the three year-olds were right.  Peppers are hot...at least here.

Jalapeno Pepper Pasta (dinner for 2)

  • 4 oz tri-color rotini (or other short noodle)
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2 bell peppers, cut into strips
  • 2 chicken sausages (jalapeno & cheese if you can find them)
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 2-4 tbs minced jalapeno (omit seeds and membrane for less spice)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper

Place a large pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a boil.  While the water is heating, cook the sausage according to directions in a small pan.  Set aside to cool slightly before slicing.

Place a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the butter and stir to coat the pan.  Once the butter is melted, add the bell peppers and increase heat to medium-high.  Cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally, until peppers are tender and starting to brown.  Add the garlic, jalapeno, salt and pepper and stir together well.  Reduce heat to medium and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes.

Cook the pasta in the salted water for a minute less than indicated on the box.  Drain in a colander, then add to the bell peppers along with the sliced chicken sausage.  Stir together and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, until heated through.  Serve over a bed of kale or with a glass of milk.  

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