At a glance, the word in the title of this post might appear to be another invented portmanteau à la caponatatouille, suggesting some magical combination of calamari and kalamata olives: a Mediterranean pairing that, indeed, sounds highly appealing. In fact, calamarata refers to a pasta shape seldom seen outside Italy. Large, thick, and hollow, like a magnified version of ziti, calamarata resembles tubular slices of squid. Attending a fancy foods show a few months back, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a pound of the beautiful imported pasta featured on the website above, and I'd been keeping it in mind for a special occasion. That occasion presented itself last night, when my friends Kate and Andrea stopped by for a long-overdue visit.
In order to take best advantage of the calamarata's unique shape, I wanted to prepare a thick, chunky sauce that would take refuge in the roomy cavity of each piece of pasta. Additionally, as Andrea is a vegetarian, my sauce would have to be meat-free. Eyeing a jar of white beans sitting on my counter, I decided to simmer them with some aromatic vegetables, cherry tomatoes and broth. I let this mixture bubble away slowly as my friends and I worked our way through a plate of runny French cheeses, a bowl of guacamole, and the better part of a large baguette. By the time I was ready to combine the sauce with the pasta, the white beans had become soft and creamy, and the tomatoes were slumped and candy-sweet. I think that my humble, off-the-cuff creation made a perfectly respectable partner for the luxurious Italian import it found itself next to in the bowl.
Calamarata with White Beans and Cherry Tomatoes
Serves 4 - 6
1. Place 3 tbsp. of olive oil in a large, deep, heavy-bottomed pan set over medium-low heat. Add 1/2 a red onion, 1/2 a carrot, peeled, and 1 stalk of celery, all finely diced. Add 3 cloves of minced garlic, season with salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and dried thyme, and cook until vegetables are wilted and have begun to caramelize, about 6-8 minutes.
2. Drain and rinse a 15.5 oz can of small white (canellini) beans. Add them to the pan, along with 1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, most halved but some left whole. Add most of a small can of vegetable or chicken broth and simmer, uncovered, until reduced by half, about 15-20 minutes.
3. In the meantime, cook one pound of calamarata, ziti, or rigatoni in heavily salted water until al dente. Combine the sauce and the pasta, garnishing with chopped fresh parsley, more olive oil, and grated cheese, if desired, and serve.