Friday’s Hot Tip: What’s Cookin? Penne with Spinach & Chickpeas

The hardest part about giving up a lot of wheat and gluten is giving up pasta. Fortunately there are several companies who have come up with rice pasta. Tinkyada makes excellent gluten-free pasta but at $3.99 or more a bag, it can be quite expensive. I buy Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Pasta and find it to be just as good. By using rice pasta I don’t have to stop making my favorite pasta dishes, such as this incredibly delicious penne with spinach, chickpeas and tomatoes tossed in an olive oil-based sauce.

This recipe is a very slight variation on one I got from Kirsten over at NilsenLife. I love chickpeas and especially love them in this dish, which is so full of garlicky tomato-y chickpea goodness that I often eat more than I should in one sitting. I use baby spinach leaves instead of frozen – while I’m loving spinach more now as an adult, I still have issues with frozen spinach. It’s just not aesthetically pleasing.

Earlier this week I visited Kirsten at her home and we briefly discussed our love of this dish. We were in agreement about the addictive qualities of this dish, but couldn’t quite define what makes it so…craveable. The olive oil? The garlic? The combination of flavors? Whatever it is, this pasta dish is well worth turning on the stove for, even during these hot summer days. Pro tip: if you have leftovers, try them cold or at room temperature – still tastes fabulous.

Penne with Spinach and Chickpeas in Garlic Sauce

5-6 oz. loose fresh spinach OR 1 small pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed
8 oz. penne pasta
1/3 C olive oil
3-6 garlic cloves (depending on how garlicky you like your food, or if you are trying to ward off vampires)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
1 15-oz can of chickpeas, drained but not rinsed
Kosher salt & ground pepper
1/4 C grated Parmesan (optional)

Clean spinach, discard stems. (Chop leaves if they are on the large side.) Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 2 minutes. (Don’t let the garlic burn!) Add the tomatoes and chickpeas and cook 2 minutes more. Add freshly ground pepper for added zing. Throw in the chopped spinach, add kosher salt and stir well. Turn off the burner and allow the spinach to cook on its own – it will be much fresher & bright green in color.

When the pasta is done, drain it thoroughly. Add pasta to saucepan or mix pasta with sauce in a separate bowl. Sprinkle on the Parmesan, and toss again. You can have this pasta without the Parmesan if you have issues with dairy products, but the cheese adds another lovely flavor to the dish.

Serves 3-4 (Pro tip: use entire bag of penne and spinach if you’re feeding a larger group.)

Friday’s Hot Tip: Penne Pomodoro e Peperoncino

Years ago I found this recipe in InStyle Magazine – I think it was Janet Jackson’s favorite dish at a restaurant, but I don’t have any information on which restaurant. Nevertheless, Ms. Jackson has excellent taste because this pasta is addictive. It’s really delicious served hot but I also like it cold or room temperature. It takes time and attention to make the olive-oil-based sauce, so plan on setting aside about 45 minutes to babysit the saucepan.

Last week I served this pasta along with London broil and a spinach salad made with pomegranate seeds, candied pecans and Parmesan cheese tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette. It was a big hit and paired beautifully with the beef.

Since this recipe makes a lot of pasta, I recommend making it for a party. You’ll glow with pride as your guests rhapsodize about your mad skills with penne.

Penne al Pomodoro e Peperoncino

  • 1 1/4 cups olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrot
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 lbs penne pasta
  • 10 fresh basil leaves
  • Chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish (optional)

In medium saucepan heat oil. Add onion, celery carrot, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, 15-17 minutes. Add tomatoes and red pepper flakes; reduce heat to medium low, cook for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in large pot bring 6 quarts salted water to boil. Add pasta, stir. Return water to boil. Boil pasta 11-13 minutes, until al dente. Drain well. Return pasta to pot. Add basil leaves to sauce. Spoon sauce into bowl of food processor; process in batches until texture is smooth. [Moxie adds: I use my blender because my food processor is too small and I would rather get the whole thing done in one fell swoop. If you’ve got a big honkin’ food processor, though, by all means use it.]. Pour sauce over pasta; toss well. To serve, place pasta on warmed serving platter. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serves 6.