Pasta Fresca

This pasta dish with sweet white wine, balsamic vinegar, and veggies is incredible. Here’s how it came about. While casting about online for a copycat recipe for Noodles and Company’s Penne Rosa (you can see my version here), I came across the ingredient list for their Pasta Fresca dish. I’d never actually eaten it before, but I found the ingredients inspiring and created this little number a few nights later. About a month after that, I had the chance to order the ‘real’ Pasta Fresca at Noodles and Company, and discovered there was pretty much no likeness between their dish and mine. Similar ingredients, but completely different flavor profiles. Now I would have my version over theirs any day, but all I can say it make it and judge for yourselves–it’s simple and fresh and you will just love it. Here’s how to make it:


(Serves 3)

1/2 lb angel hair pasta

2 TBS olive oil

5-6 cloves garlic, sliced

2 TBS balsamic vinegar

6 roma tomatoes

1 red onion

salt to taste

ground black pepper

1 tsp cracked black peppercorns (heaping)

1/2 c sweet white wine (moscato)

1/3 c heavy whipping cream

5 oz baby spinach

handful basil leaves

Shaved Parmesan, to serve

First, chop all the ingredients: the onion . . .

. . . the tomatoes . . .

. . . and the garlic. Though I do like to thinly slice my garlic for this instead of mincing it.

You can also roughly chop the basil at this point, though that won’t go in until the end. Save a couple leaves to do some chiffonade. It will make everything prettier when you serve it.

While we’re at it prepping ingredients, let’s measure out those black peppercorns and give them a bashing with the old mortar and pestle. If you look closely, peppercorns are wrinkly and hilarious. Sometimes I like to eat one whole. It lights my mouth on fire, and also fills it with an almost lemony tang. If I were in the wilderness with no toothbrush, I would grab a peppercorn from a nearby peppercorn tree. It really makes your mouth, sinuses, and entire being feel cleaned out. Live on the wild side and crunch a peppercorn!

Hooray! Pulverized peppercorns. There’s nothing as pungent, spicy, and wonderful.

Except for Thai red chilis. Those suckers are just fantastic. Though you won’t find me eating one of those whole! No way.

Heat 2 TBS olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and garlic; cook for 4 minutes.

Add the balsamic vinegar. Reduce the heat to low and cook 5 minutes. The liquid should be gone at the end, completely absorbed by the onions. You could probably stop here and just eat some delicious balsamic onions. Though since the heavy cream hasn’t yet been involved, stopping here could also be the biggest mistake of your week. Or your life? Hard to say.

Add salt and pepper too, while you’re at it.

Add the chopped tomatoes. Turn up heat to medium high and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the sweet white wine. It’s very important that you use a sweet wine such as moscatel (I’ve seen this labeled “muscat” or “moscato” as well), because a dry white wine would give this sauce a radically different flavor. Take a swig while you’re at it–no one’s looking! They say it’s good for you, too. Seriously! I read it in Martha Stewart Living! Or was that red wine?

Cook for 15 minutes on medium high–it should be at a rapid simmer the whole time. The liquid should mostly reduce by the time you’re done.

Add the cream and cracked black peppercorns.

Cook on medium 3 minutes. Did someone just say “paradise”? Or did I inadvertently speak aloud?

Turn down heat to low and add spinach and basil. Yes, it looks like an invasion of the pot has taken place, but the heat will quickly cut these green intruders down to size.

Cook for 1-2 minutes, until just wilted.

I forgot to add the peppercorns with the cream, so I added them now instead.

Take your set-aside basil leaves and chiffonade them. Here’s how: roll up a leaf nice and tight . . .

. . . and slice it crosswise!

Couldn’t be easier, especially if you’re not trying to hold the knife and the leaf with one hand because your other hand is on your camera’s shutter release. Look at this precious little pile of curly-wurlies.

Will you forgive me if I promise never to say “curly wurlies” again?

Serve the sauce with the pasta, topped with basil chiffonade and parmesan.

Would you just look at this beauty?

Let’s take a generous bite . . .

Hey! Who ate my . . . ?! What the . . . !? Oh . . . *patting stomach* . . . it might have been me. Well, thankfully there’s more where that came from. Time for seconds:

And I’m pleased to say, second verse same as the first: AMAZING!

Click here for printer-friendly version: Pasta Fresca

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14 Responses to Pasta Fresca

  1. Twinky says:

    Would you come and be my cook?????

  2. Uhmmm
    I’ll try it this weekend!
    wow. I’m hungry.
    Fantastic recipe!!!

  3. Susan says:

    This looks so delicious, Jenna! I’ve been looking over your blog and love your photography. I live in a suburb of Milwaukee and we love visiting Chicago. My husband and I are members of the Art Institute.

    • Jenna says:

      Cool! We’re also members of the Art Institute! We love perusing the galleries and knowing that we can return as often as we want . . .
      We have family in Milwaukee and pretty much all over Wisconsin . . . it’s a great state!

  4. Kelsey says:

    Jenna that looks 100x better than the one at Noodles, I’m excited to try it and potentially even make it Luke friendly. Ok, so I had to do a double take in the photo where you added basil, there appears to be a ‘little girl’ looking on, does she have a story?

    • Jenna says:

      Heh heh . . . the ‘little girl’ is this little woodland fairy statuette thingy that someone gave me on my 21st birthday. I was planning to give it to Goodwill or something because it felt like clutter, but somehow she ended up in the kitchen. Her wings fell off years ago, but she has been in our kitchen since we got married and I’ve gotten kind of fond of having her watch over the stove. =)

  5. giselle says:

    This looks tasty!! I love that it’s vegetarian even though I’m not. I just feel a twinge of guilt every time I eat meat, so I’m always happy for a tasty recipe that doesn’t include it. :) PS – I totally met Pioneer Woman on Sunday at the airport. OMG almost died.

    • Jenna says:

      Whoa! The PW herself!?!?! Did you just unexpectedly run into her? I’m so jealous! I had a dream that I met her . . . but that’s about it.

      • giselle says:

        Yeah!! I was in Chicago visiting my friend and she was at the airport waiting for MY flight back to Tulsa!!! I always hoped that one day I would run into her since I know she comes to Tulsa, but I thought it’d be at Whole Foods, not on my flight!! zomg it was awesome. She was so nice! Just like I always hoped she would be! And now I sound like a stalker. lol

  6. Sarah says:

    i love peppercorns! they do smell so good! even just in the grinder. :) this looks so fresh and delicious…. and a fresh fall dish too!

  7. Lisa says:

    That’s my favorite dish from Noodles! I want to try yours to see how they compare now : )

    • Jenna says:

      I don’t think they’ll be hugely similar since I made this before ever tasting the Noodles version, but I’m really curious to see how you like it and how you think they compare. Thanks! =)

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