BY CHRISTINE BARBOUR
What a difference a shape makes. Trenne pasta is a lot like penne, those little tubular quills that work so well in everything from pasta bolognese to mac ‘n cheese. But trenne isn’t tubular. As its name suggests it’s got three sides—three flat sides to be precise, and therein lies its charm.
What is so wonderful about trenne is that after you boil it in plenty of salted water you can sauté it in a bit of olive oil. The flat sides keep the pasta from rolling around in the pan, creating a potsticker effect—those tender Chinese dumplings with the crispy bottoms. The pasta takes on a toasty, almost grilled flavor, and the texture is addictive—delightfully chewy and crunchy at the same time.
Sautéed trenne appears to have originated with chef Mark Peel of Los Angeles’ Campanille restaurant, but it has also appeared on the menu of Restaurant Tallent here in Bloomington. And although up until now you needed to mail order the pasta if you wanted to make it at home, trenne is currently available at Goods Gourmet, on the west side of the downtown Square. The pasta is a little pricey, but it’s really worth it, and it doesn’t take much to make a knock-your-socks-off first course.
Here’s what you do. Cook the pasta according to package instructions in plenty of salted water until just cooked through but firm to the tooth. Drain thoroughly. In a nonstick frying pan, heat 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil. When it’s hot, add the pasta. Do not crowd—do this in two batches if necessary. Toss the pasta in the oil (sprinkle with a little salt if you like) and then cook over medium heat until the pasta is golden and crunchy on one side. Place the pasta in shallow bowls and top with your favorite sauce. Fresh tomatoes with garlic, basil, and olives make a quick, no-cook alternative. If you want to take a little more trouble, sauté a bunch of chopped Swiss chard in oil, season with salt and pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Toss the sautéed pasta with the chard, some roasted garlic, a handful of crumbled goat feta, and some toasted pinenuts.
Poor old penne just cannot compete.