This is a favorite pasta formula for fall and winter weeknights. It's something of a riff on pasta con ceci, minus the soupiness and chickpeas, plus much bigger noodles. Cooking the rigatoni right in the sauce means a super emulsified, creamy final dish, thanks to the starch. And it's endlessly customizable—think bacon, garlic, spices, a splash of red wine, peas, white beans, Italian sausage, breadcrumbs, or anything else that hits the spot. But as is, in its most simple state, I think it's pretty perfect. —Ella Quittner
In a 12-inch nonreactive skillet (or a large Dutch oven), heat 2 tablespoons oil over a medium flame. Add the shallots and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Turn heat to medium-low and use your spatula or spoon to gently break apart the shallots' rings so they’re mostly in separate circles. Sauté for 8ish minutes, until fully slack and beginning to brown around the edges.
Make a well in the center of the pan, add another splash of olive oil, then and add the tomato paste. Sauté for 3 minutes, while mixing the shallots and tomato paste together. Make another well in the center of the pan and add the red chili flakes. Sauté for about 30 seconds. Add the water and stir everything to dissolve the tomato paste. Increase the heat to medium-high. Scrape up any browned bits from bottom of pan and bring the liquid to a rolling simmer. Add the rigatoni and another 1 teaspoon salt. Let cook (still at a rolling simmer) for 9 to 10 minutes, stirring every once in a while to give all the noodles a chance to be fully submerged, until only about 1/3 of the sauce remains (it should be thickened) and the noodles are cooked but al dente. Reduce the heat to low and add the Parmesan, stirring until it fully melts and combines to create a thick, creamy sauce. Turn off heat, taste, and add more salt if needed.
Serve hot, with more grated Parmesan on top. Oh, and a large glass of red wine on the side.
Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.