In the spirit of the season, which is to say, excess, I offer one of my favorite comfort food recipes, for when the richness of holiday cooking gets to be too much. (Apologies for the mixed measures.)
Matt's Penne with Chèvre, Sundried Tomatoes and Basil
2-3 tbsp olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 pinches chili flakes, to taste
1 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
2 14-oz. cans Italian tomatoes, chopped
2-3 tbsp tomato paste
150 g. (6 oz.) chèvre (soft goat cheese), room temperature
1 large bunch basil leaves, chiffonaded
3 chicken breasts (optional)
500 g. (1 lb) tricolor penne
salt and fresh ground black pepper
Season, grill or sauté chicken breasts, if using, slice thinly and reserve. Heat olive oil in medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and chili flakes and fry until garlic is soft but not browned, 1-2 min. Add sundried tomatoes and continue to cook, stirring, for another minute. Add canned tomatoes, tomato paste and black pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 min. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add pasta and cook to al dente. Drain and return to pot. Season sauce with salt to taste and gently reheat chicken. Pour hot sauce over pasta, add chicken and chèvre, and stir to melt the cheese and thoroughly coat the pasta. Stir in the basil chiffonade at the last second to keep from wilting too much, and share out among 4 plates. Garnish each serving with cracked black pepper and a basil top.
This can also work as a baked dish. Undercook the pasta a little, mix with sauce, cheese and basil, spread into a baking dish and add extra dollops of chèvre on top. Bake until cheese is melted and the pasta is cooked through.