Made with vegetables that have been cooked until meltingly soft, this penne pasta dish is one of those great examples of what makes classic rustic Italian cooking so special: It makes the most of humble and unassuming ingredients, turning them into something downright delicious.
Why this recipe works:
- Cooking the vegetables until they're soft enough to be easily crushed between your fingers means they'll melt into a beautiful sauce for the pasta.
- Cutting the vegetables small means that little pieces will work their way into the penne tubes, for a better marriage of pasta and sauce.
- Using the same pot of boiling water for the vegetables and pasta turns the dish into an efficient one-pot meal.
Note: While we've recommended using aggressively salted water for blanching vegetables, here, because the water is also used to cook the pasta, it is better to salt the water following our pasta-salting guidelines. Feel free to substitute other vegetables here, though the potatoes are an important backbone of the sauce. The raw garlic adds lots of flavor, but also potency, to the sauce: use less if you're sensitive to that flavor, or more if you enjoy it. Also, use the best olive oil you can find, as it adds lots of flavor to this dish.
- Kosher salt
- 1 large russet potato (about 12 ounces), peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 3/4 cups)
- 3 ounces string beans, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 3/4 cup)
- 1/2 small fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 small red onion, cut into 1.4-inch dice (about 3/4 cup)
- 1 pound dried penne
- 2 to 4 medium cloves garlic, minced (see note)
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (see note)
- 1/4 cup minced parsley
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving
In a medium pot of salted boiling water, cook potato until a piece is easily crushed between fingers, about 5 minutes. Using fine strainer, transfer to large mixing bowl. Working one vegetable at a time, continue by boiling carrots, string beans, fennel, and onion until each is well done, about 5 minutes each; add each vegetable to mixing bowl as it is ready.
Add penne to boiling water and cook until al dente, following timing on package. Drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking water.
Meanwhile, add garlic, olive oil, and parsley to vegetables, and mix thoroughly until potatoes have broken down for form a chunky puree. Season with salt and pepper.
Add penne and a healthy grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano to vegetable sauce and stir to combine, adding cooking water 1 tablespoon at a time if sauce is too thick. Spoon into bowls, top with additional grated cheese, and serve.