I lived in Italy for a few glorious years, and the family of my childhood best friend, Giuditta, owned a restaurant called La Casellina in the Tuscan hills outside Rufina. We ate there all the time, and I fell madly in love with many of the dishes on the menu. One of them was ravioli with crema di rucola – ravioli with a sauce made from rocket and laden with cream and cheese. The crema in today’s dish is inspired by that sauce, although it doesn’t contain any dairy, and I’ve used silken tofu, which is utterly untraditional. The flavour of the tofu is completely undetectable, though – it just provides a smooth, creamy base for the sauce.
Rigatoni with crema di rucola
My fridge is almost never without a jar of Seggiano’s crema di peperoncino (Calabrian chilli paste). You can buy it online and in many Italian delis, and I add it to everything from sauces, soups and stews to salad dressings. If you can’t get hold of it, use dried chilli flakes instead.
Prep 10 min
Cook 15-20 min
250g dried rigatoni
Salt and black pepper
1 tbsp plant-based butter
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve
5g sage leaves
For the salsa
2 large ripe tomatoes, halved (300g)
½ tsp Seggiano crema di peperoncino (Calabrian chilli paste), or dried chilli flakes, to taste
2½ tbsp olive oil
1 small garlic clove, peeled and finely grated or crushed
½ tsp lemon juice
½ tsp fine salt
For the crema di rucola
300g silken tofu
15g basil leaves, plus 5 extra leaves to serve
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp dried onion granules
1 small garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
¾ tsp fine salt
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente (see packet instructions), then drain, reserving four tablespoons of the cooking water.
While the pasta is cooking, make the salsa. Grate the tomato halves on the large holes of a box grater and put the pulp in a sieve over a bowl to drain for a few minutes; discard the skins. Put the drained pulp and half a tablespoon of the tomato juice in a bowl and mix with the chilli paste (or flakes), oil, garlic, lemon juice and fine salt.
Put all the ingredients for the crema in a blender with about 10 twists of the pepper mill and blitz smooth. Spoon the crema into a large saute pan and put it on a medium heat. Add the pasta and the reserved pasta water, and cook, stirring, for a minute or two, until the sauce is warm and the pasta is coated, then set aside.
Put the butter and oil in a small frying pan on a medium-high heat and, once the butter has melted, add the sage leaves and fry, swirling the pan, for about 75 seconds, until they go crisp and bright green, then season generously.
Transfer the pasta to a platter and spoon over some of the tomato salsa. Top with the crisp sage leaves and some of their buttery oil, finish with the remaining basil leaves and some flaked salt, and serve at once with the remaining salsa on the side.