Wednesday, May 18, 2016

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...
What’s cooking? Fusilli with No-cook Tomato Sauce

The first mystery of the day is what I named that file where I wrote the recipe for today’s post. I’m pretty sure I recall doing that, and I probably named it something clever and memorable.

Then there’s the question of where the time goes when I sit down at my computer. Because I made this pasta a week ago, took the photos, and planned what I’d say about it. That’s a mystery that haunts me daily.

But the mystery that started this train of thought was Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie’s classic novel. Published in 1934, it’s been adapted once as a movie (1974, starring Albert Finney), once for radio (1992-3 in a 5-part BBC series, starring John Moffat), and three times for television (2001 by CBS, starring Alfred Molina; 2010 by a British company and WGBH-TV, starring David Suchet; and 2015 by Fuji Television, with an all-Japanese cast). Another film version, starring Kenneth Branagh as Poirot, is expected out next year.

I’ve read it more than once, but most recently as my book group’s choice for the month of May. And even though I know the ending well, I always enjoy riding along with Dame Agatha as she unspools her clues. In fact, except for the Tommy and Tuppence Beresford books, I believe I’ve read almost all of Christie’s mysteries.

My fascination with mystery started with Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew, which I devoured in my preteen years. By high school, I’d graduated to Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series, and when I finished that, I moved on to Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. I’ve since covered the landscape of Raymond Chandler, Colin Dexter, Elizabeth George, Sue Grafton, Dashiell Hammett, P.D. James, John D. MacDonald, Ross Macdonald, Ngaio Marsh, Robert Parker,  Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, and, of course, the delicious Arthur Conan Doyle. Whew! So I guess you’d say I like a good murder mystery.

Mostly what I think I like is the logic – the straightforward, linear storytelling with at least the chance that I might figure out whodunnit. And an unequivocal solution at the end.

A Cool Sauce on Hot Pasta

As the hostess for my book group’s mystery night, I wanted to serve something that wouldn’t require a lot of last-minute attention. In colder months, I often serve soup; but May in Texas isn’t soup weather. Then I remembered a dish that an Italian friend used to make in New Jersey – one that required only the heat of the just-cooked pasta to warm up the sauce. I found several variations on the web, and most of them credited my old favorite – The Silver Palate Cookbook – as the originator. So that’s where I started, too, and only added a couple of tweaks of my own.

The best thing about this sauce is that you need to assemble it hours before the guests arrive – so there’s really no way to run late. Allow however much time you need to heat the pasta water, and once the pasta is cooked, you toss it with the sauce and the dish is ready. It really couldn’t be easier. And my book group declared it “delicious!” No mystery there.

Fusilli with No-cook Tomato Sauce

Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook (Workman Publishing, 1982)

Serves 8 as a main course.

4 pints sweet cherry tomatoes
1 pound good Brie cheese
1 cup fresh basil leaves
½ cup oil-cured black olives, halved
zest of 1 lemon
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 scant cup olive oil
2½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus salt for the pasta water
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ pounds fusilli
garnish: freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

To make the Brie easier to slice, put it into the freezer while you cut up the tomatoes.

Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters or eighths, depending on the look you want. (The Kitchen Goddess cut hers into eighths.) Place them in a large mixing bowl.

Trim the rind off the Brie and slice it into ½-inch dice. Scatter it on top of the tomatoes.

Make a chiffonade of the basil leaves: Stack 8-10 leaves into a neat pile. Roll the leaves into a fairly tight cigar shape, and slice across the cigar in strips about ⅛ inch wide. Sprinkle the basil strips on top of the tomatoes and Brie. Repeat with the remaining basil. [Kitchen Goddess note: For the KG’s demonstration of chiffonade technique, click here.]

The sauce after less than one hour.
Add the olives, lemon zest, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper to the bowl, and stir gently to combine the ingredients. Cover the bowl and set it aside for 3-4 hours at room temperature, stirring gently about once an hour.
The sauce after 4 hours.

Set a large pot of well-salted water on the stove for the pasta. When you are almost ready to serve, cook the pasta according to package directions. Once the pasta is tender but still a little al dente, drain it and add it immediately to the bowl of sauce. Toss well and serve with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Kitchen Goddess note: The KG has specified fusilli here, because she likes a pasta with some shape to it, to help trap the gooey cheese in the sauce. But other types of pasta will do as well, such as gemelli (twists), radiatore (radiator shapes), or farfalle (bow ties). 


  1. This gets done tonight!
    Eileen in Atlanta

    1. So glad, Eileen! I hope it was as delicious as it was at my house. :-)