In the event this is your first visit to the blog, allow me to acquaint you with one of my salient features: I love food. I’ll qualify that for you: As a writer and (sometimes) musician, I understand the difference between a passion and a diversion. And for me, nothing compares to food. All of it: the planning, the shopping, the cooking, the eating and the talking incessantly about it afterward. These are some of life’s greatest pleasures, and have consumed me since I was a teenager.

So it’s somewhat of a surprise that I recently published my very first recipe. It was my take on Bucatini All’Amatriciana, something I’ve been making for a dozen years. With its porky, garlic-and-tomato richness, it has long been my can’t-miss dish. But there are a lot of people out there who don’t indulge in pork, and those readers were left out last time around. Not so today!


A closeup of flowering arugula (arugula rabe), delicious when sautéed

Detailed below is my original recipe for Rigatoni della Fattoria.  I came up with this dish a few years back, while trying to mimic something my Calabrian grandmother used to cook for me when I was small child. The preparation combines beans, tomato, seasonal greens and cheese in a rich baked pasta, just what the doctor ordered in the midst of a chilly San Francisco winter.

Pro Tip: The following recipe calls for peeled and seeded Roma tomatoes. Assuming you’ve got a gas oven, here’s the trick: impaled on the end of a fork, hold your tomato an inch or so above a medium flame, rotating the fork until the skin blisters evenly across the fruit. Once it has cooled down, the skin should peel easily away. To seed, cut tomato in quarters, and the seeds can be simply dispatched with the fingers. 

Rigatoni della Fattoria
(Farmer’s Rigatoni)

– 2 cups roughly chopped arugula rabe (flowering arugula). Can substitute broccoli rabe, kale or other bitter green, but look for the real thing. (Check out Heirloom Organic Gardens at the Ferry Building Saturday farmer’s market–it’s in season.) Cut in 3/4″ pieces, and remove all thick stems

– 2 ripe Roma tomatoes (peeled, seeded and chopped)

– 1/2 cup dry red or white beans (Italian preferred)

– 6-7 cloves garlic

– 1 small red onion, chopped fine

– 2 cups freshly grated Italian cheese (a combination of pecorino & parmigiano reggiano is ideal)

– 1/2 teaspoon dry oregano

– 2/3 teaspoon chopped basil (optional if out of season)

– Large chunk (8 oz.) fontina cheese, cut into odd-sized pieces

– 1 lb dry rigatoni or penne

– 1/2 cup olive oil

– 2/3 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Cook beans until soft, with just a pinch of salt. Taste for firmness at 40 minutes. Once beans are soft, add salt, 3 of the chopped garlic cloves, a couple of teaspoons of the chopped onion, half the red pepper flakes, the oregano and the chopped tomato. Cook over low heat 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture resembles a soup. Taste for salt and set aside.

Simultaneously in another pan, sauté the remaining onion and red pepper flakes in olive oil over low heat for 5-7 minutes. Add arugula rabe and two cloves of sliced garlic. Cover and uncover alternately so the greens can steam and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 12-15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Of all the pasta shapes, rigatoni is one of the best for baked dishes.

Boil pasta until very al dente (a little bit too firm to serve). Make sure to liberally salt the pasta water (I use 2 tablespoons of salt for a large pot). This is very important: remember that almost all of the salt drains out with the water, and don’t skimp. And don’t rinse the pasta! It’s a common error, and only detracts from the final product.

In a small pyrex or ceramic baking pan, place 1/4 of the bean and tomato mixture. Add 1/2 of the drained pasta, then cover with 2/3 of the greens and another 1/3 of the beans. Add salt and pepper, then 1/3 of the cheese (grated and fontina) and half of the basil. Add the remaining pasta, then top with the remaining items (save 1/3 of the grated cheese for the table, and place a few slices of the fontina on top). Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, drizzling evenly over the pan’s contents.

Bake in a preheated 425º oven for 18-20 minutes, checking after 10 minutes. If you prefer, you can put some fresh bread crumbs on top for the last 5 minutes. For best results, let the pan rest on the counter for 7-8 minutes before you serve.

Plate with a generous dusting of reggiano parmigiano; red wine (preferably something Italian, naturally) pairs superbly with this dish. 

Buon appetito….and see you soon!