Cooking with Vanilla: Pasta with Sauce ­Veracruz

| December/January 1995

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Vanilla is the secret ingredient in this cross-cultural sauce, which is also delicious served with grilled or roasted meats, poultry, or seafood.

• 4 large cloves garlic, unpeeled
• 2 large yellow onions
• 2 medium carrots
• 4–6 fresh New Mexican green chiles
• 2 large red sweet peppers
• 2 pounds ripe Roma tomatoes
• 1 1/2–2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 1/2–2 cups rich chicken, beef, or vegetable stock
• 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, cut into very thin strips (soften in hot water if dry packed)
• 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sweet ­marjoram or mild oregano
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
• 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
• 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
• 2 tablespoons small capers
• 1/4 cup tequila, reposado or anejo type
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1–1 1/2 pounds zucchini, thinly sliced
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 12 ounces ziti, rigatoni, fettucine, or linguine, cooked according to package directions
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
• 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts or walnuts
• 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Wash the fresh vegetables and pat dry. Do not peel or cut. Rub them with some of the olive oil and place them on a well-oiled baking sheet. Bake them until the skins are browned and the insides are softened. Remove the vegetables from the oven as soon as they’re done, letting the rest cook as long as needed; the onions and garlic will require 30 to 40 minutes.

2. While the vegetables are roasting, heat 11/2 cups of the stock to boiling, pour it over the sun-dried tomatoes, and let them stand. When the vegetables are cool, squeeze the garlic cloves from their skins, remove the skin from the onions and peppers, and seed and core the peppers. Roughly chop the vegetables.

3. Place the chopped vegetables in a large skillet that has been coated with olive oil and heat, stirring often. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and their soaking liquid, rosemary, sweet marjoram (or oregano), parsley, cumin, coriander, capers, and tequila. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until very flavorful. Add more stock if needed to thin the sauce. When nearly ready to serve, add the vanilla extract and sliced zucchini to the sauce, cooking just until brightly colored. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over the pasta, tossing lightly; garnish with the cilantro, nuts, and optional grated cheese.

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