Pasta with red peppers, or pasta peperonata, with silky red and yellow pepper strands cooked down to sweet and umami sauce. I’ll pick this over marinara or arrabbiata every time.
Tomato sauce for pasta is such a classic it should have its own Sevres model. Not that it is any kind of constant in terms of ingredients for instance: fresh tomatoes, tinned tomatoes, passata or puree – anything goes.
I certainly have nothing against good tomato sauce but pasta with nothing else but it is a little lacking. I feel the need to shower it with Parmesan if it’s served to me, or wish it had a little bit of sausage sliced into the sauce. If you have similar thoughts even about puttanesca zinged with olives, or arrabbiata with the heat of pepperoncini, try red peppers.
It isn’t strictly necessary to use only red peppers; in fact the sauce will be more vibrant with a mix of red, orange and yellow, one of each. But ‘red pepper’ is sort of generic – otherwise you’d be well entitled to think that my ‘pasta with pepper sauce’ is perhaps cacio e pepe.
The sauce is sometimes called peperonata for a good reason. But while peperonata, a dish of cooked down peppers and onions in its own right, is quite chunky, this sauce should have the peppers almost dissolved, thin, limp and wilted to release maximum sweetness and flavour.
I like to add anchovy paste to sauces for pasta; it’s the umami central, even more so than whole anchovy fillet melted into the sauce. Italian chilli paste also works better here than fresh chillies – but be careful as it is a deceptively potent stuff. And yes – after all that I add some tomato puree but it’s an addition only for a touch of sourness; it doesn’t dominate the dish.