A few hundred years ago, Arabic traders introduced mechanical pasta machines in Italian ports. The details are a bit sketchy, but the Italians read through the guise of opening trade relations as an invasive ploy and basically adapted the mechanized pasta making methods as their own. Methods of creating tube shaped extruded pastas were soon followed.
Some time later in history, Italian culinary styles were introduced to North Africa during the Italian. Pretty soon people in Egypt and North Africa adapted Italian bread, besciamella sauce and fancy new pasta shapes. Small pasta shapes, like Ditali, were prepared with traditional couscous ingredients too.
Tomatoes and chile peppers were introduced to Tunisia during the Colombian Exchange. Tomatoes and peppers are plants that do well in hot weather regions, so it was a natural for Tunisia to adapt these vegetables to the local cuisine. Modern Tunisian cuisine offers many recipes that feature these items.
The Tomato Harissa Sauce for today's pasta has an interesting Tunisian flavor that is comfortable during hot summer weather. This Tunisian style pasta may look simple, but the flavors are complex enough to keep the interest of guests. Tunisian style cooking methods are used to make the sauce. For example, the onions are cooked till they caramelize to increase flavor. Just like with traditional Italian pasta (or Tunisian couscous), only enough sauce is made to coat the pasta with flavor.
Tunisian Ditali Rigati Pasta with Chicken and Harissa:
This recipe yields 1 portion.
Step 1: Cook 1 portion of Ditali Rigati Pasta in boiling water over high heat till it is al dente.
Drain off the hot water.
Cool the pasta under cold running water.
Drain off the water and set the pasta aside.
Step 2: Remove the skin and excess fat from 1 large chicken thigh.
Debone the chicken thigh.
Cut the chicken thigh meat into short bite size strips and set them aside. (About 3 to 4 ounces is plenty.)
Step 3: Heat a wide sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
Add 2 tablespoons of blended olive oil.
Add 3 tablespoons of minced onion.
Sauté till the onions just start to caramelize.
Step 4: Add the reserved bite size chicken thigh strips.
Add 2 minced garlic cloves.
Sauté till the chicken pieces are fully cooked and the onions are caramelized.
Step 5: Add 2 cups of water.
Add 2 tablespoons of harissa paste (or 1/4 cup of mild harissa sauce).
Add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste.
Bring the liquid to a gentle boil, while occasionally stirring with a whisk.
Step 6: Reduce the temperature to medium low heat.
Add 1/2 tablespoon of finely ground almonds.
Add 1 bay leaf.
Add 1 pinch of dried mint leaves.
Add 1 pinch of marjoram.
Add 1 pinch of oregano.
Add 1 pinch of basil.
Add 1 pinch of cumin.
Add 1 small pinch of crushed dried red pepper. (optional)
Add 1 pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
Step 7: Simmer and reduce till the sauce is a thin consistency. (The volume should be about 1 1/3 cups.)
Step 8: Add the prepared Ditali Rigati Pasta.
Add 1 tablespoon of finely grated Parmigiana Cheese.
Toss the sauce and pasta together.
Briefly simmer and reduce till the sauce clings to the pasta.
Step 9: Mound the pasta in a shallow pasta bowl.
Sprinkle 1/2 tablespoon of finely grated Parmigiana Cheese over the pasta.
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of finely chopped green bell pepper over the pasta.
Serve with sliced Italian bread on the side.
This is a bold tasting pasta that is perfect for hot weather!