Monday, April 2, 2012

Pasta with Artichokes, San Marzano Tomatoes and Smoked Mozzarella

About ten years ago I worked in an Italian restaurant in Portland, Oregon. Between lines of coke, the general manager made it his personal ambition to make me cry during every shift. Okay, maybe he had a few other things on his mind, but as far as I was concerned, he had it in for me.

One evening I waited on a table of three Portlandia types. As I cleared their entrees, they asked what the cheese course was for the evening. I walked into the kitchen to find out and shouted above the clamor of line cooks and a flaming grill.

"What's on the cheese plate tonight?" I hollered.

"Fontina and..." the sous responded unintelligibly.

"Fontina and what?" I said.

"Golden glow," I could have sworn he said.

Well, they ordered the cheese plate and as I delivered it, I noticed that the "golden glow" was in fact gorgonzola. Oh well. I informed the table as I dropped it off and didn't think about it again.

Until a few days later.

I walked into a shift meeting as the manager fumed. "Golden glow? Sniff. GOLDEN GLOW?!? Snifffff. I don't even want to know who is responsible for this!" he said as he waved a copy of the review printed in the local paper.

Even now it makes me smile.

The restaurant wasn't all bad though. The chef was a passionate Italian who, like all good chefs, cared deeply about the quality of the food emerging from his kitchen. Under his watch, I learned to love good cheese (and how to pronounce it). I learned to appreciate good wine. And I enjoyed my first oyster on a half shell.

One of the customer favorites at the restaurant was linguine with artichoke hearts, fennel and smoked mozzarella. It has simmered in my memory for the past ten years, but at long last, I tried to recreate it in my kitchen tonight. It has a certain golden glow I hope you enjoy as much as I have. The success of the dish depends entirely on the quality of ingredients. So don't skimp! Make sure you buy the San Marzano tomatoes and get your hand on plenty of fresh basil and the best cheese you can afford.

serves four

1 pound gluten-free linguine
1/2 cup olive oil
1 fennel bulb, diced finely
1/2 cup onion, diced finely
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed
pinch red chili flake
1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes
8-10-ounce jar artichokes, drained
1 cup hand torn fresh basil leaves
1 cup smoked mozzarela cheese
1 cup freshly grated parmigianno reggiano cheese

Cook the pasta according to package directions in salted water. Drain, douse in olive oil, and reserve.

Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat and cook the fennel, onion, garlic and spices until soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer for another 5-10 minutes.

Preheat your broiler to high.

Remove the sauce from heat and add the artichoke hearts, basil and cooked pasta. Toss gently to combine. Divide between four large bowls. Top with the smoked mozzarella and parmigiano reggiano.

Place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes until the cheese is browned and bubbling. Remove with an oven mitt and serve.


  1. gah, a printed review! even worse! haha, oh well, easy to look back now and laugh, eh? :) looks amazing!

  2. Fortunately, I did make it into another restaurant review while working somewhere else and managed not to botch it quite so badly. Ironically enough, it was at that restaurant that I fell in love with Gorgonzola. :)

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