In Mexico you are as likely to find the comforting pasta dish fideo seco on the table as beans or rice, especially in central Mexico, where it is very popular. We cook fideos not as the Italians do, but like the Spanish, who brought them to Mexico, first frying them in oil until they are toasty and nutty-tasting, then simmering them in a tomato-based sauce or broth until the sauce thickens considerably and coats the noodles. Forget al dente—our pasta is soft, and that’s the way we love it. The dish is called fideo seco—dry noodles—because it is not saucy at all. It’s also very convenient, because you can make it ahead. You can get packages of fideo pasta, thin noodles broken into pieces, in stores that sell Mexican ingredients, but you can also use thin Italian noodles such as vermicelli, angel hair, thin spaghetti, or spaghetti, and break them up yourself.
I include three different kinds of dried chiles—ancho, guajillo, and chipotle—here in addition to tomatoes, onion, and garlic. For one more layer of complexity—a bit of sweetness in addition to smoky heat—I add some adobo sauce from chipotles in adobo. Top with a drizzle of crema and a sprinkling of tangy cheese, with some sliced avocado to counterbalance the heat of the chiles, and I guarantee that you’ll make it again and again.
1 1⁄2 pounds ripe tomatoes or 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 dried guajillo chile, stemmed and seeded
1 dried ancho chile, stemmed and seeded
1 dried chipotle chile, preferably morita
1⁄4 cup coarsely chopped white onion
1 tablespoon sauce from chipotles in adobo
1⁄2 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
1 1⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt, or more to taste
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound fideos, or vermicelli, angel hair, or spaghettini, broken into smaller pieces
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
1⁄2 cup crema or sour cream
1⁄2 cup crumbled queso Cotija or añejo, or, for a milder, moister cheese topping, queso fresco, feta, or farmers’ cheese
1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, and sliced, for garnish
Place the fresh tomatoes, if using, garlic, and guajillo, ancho, and chipotle chiles in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until the tomatoes are soft and the chiles are softened, about 10 minutes. Remove the chipotle and allow it to cool until you can handle it, then remove the stem and seeds.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes, garlic, and chiles (including the chipotle) to the blender, then add 1⁄2 cup of the cooking liquid. Add the canned tomatoes and their juice, if using, the onion, adobo sauce, oregano, salt, and pepper and puree until smooth.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large deep skillet over medium heat. Add the pasta pieces and cook, stirring constantly, until they are nicely browned and smell toasty, 4 to 8 minutes. Take care not to burn them.
Pour in the tomato-chile puree, using the lid to shield yourself, as it will sizzle and splatter. Stir to combine with the noodles and cook, stirring often, until the sauce thickens and darkens, 5 to 6 minutes.
Stir in the broth and bay leaves. Continue to cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking, until the pasta is soft and the tomato sauce has thickened, 10 to 12 minutes. The mixture should be quite dry. Remove and discard the bay leaves.
Serve garnished with the cream, cheese, and avocado slices.
The variety of dried chiles you use for this dish is not set in stone. If you don’t have one or the other of the chiles listed, use two of the same kind, or choose another chile. You could also substitute a canned chipotle in adobo for the dried one.
Excerpted from PATI JINICH TREASURES OF THE MEXICAN TABLE: Classic Recipes, Local Secrets © 2021 by Pati Jinich. Photography © 2021 by Angie Mosier. Reproduced by permission of Mariner Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
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