Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Penne

For those of you who don’t know me, I read a lot. I mean, I really read a lot. And I read a lot of books about and from Africa and other parts of the world. I often like to try to make food from the places whatever book I’m reading comes from or is set in, but there are not so many African cookbooks out there. I have found recipes online, but to have actual cookbooks of African food, those are surprisingly hard to come by.

Recently I read Yes, Chef, a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson.

The chef and his book.

Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, but adopted, along with his older sister, by a couple in Sweden after his mother died of TB and his father was presumed dead in the war going on in Ethiopia at the time. It is a wonderful memoir and I really recommend it. But for the purposes of this post, I just want to say that part of his journey was getting acquainted with Ethiopia as an adult and then becoming intensely curious about African cooking in general. I was so excited to find out that he put together this book:


I have a copy from the library right now and will soon write a review of the book itself, but for the time being, I’ll tell you about making my first recipe from the book. I chose “Red Penne,” which Samuelsson describes as a “sort of North African pesto.” First I made spicy harissa, which was later mixed with some sauteed almonds, garlic, and shallots before being tossed with penne pasta and some potatoes.

The harissa is a mixture of olive oil, garlic, chili powder, coriander, caraway, salt, and freshly chopped mint. I had two problems though. I failed to see that the recipe called for an entire cup of chili powder. I ended up mixing two kinds of chili powder, one being chipotle chili powder, and still coming up a little bit short. Also, I was supposed to use ground caraway, but I only had seeds and did not feel like doing the mortar and pestle thing. Besides which, it was going to go in the food processor. So I combined what I had the best way I could. I heated 3/4 cup olive oil and put the minced garlic (2 cloves) in it until they turned golden. I removed the pan from the heat and stirred in the almost cup of chili powder, 1 tbs of coriander, 1 tsp of caraway seeds, 1 tsp salt, and 2 tbs chopped mint. I then measured out 1/3 cup of the harissa paste and set it aside. The rest went into a glass dish and is in my refrigerator, waiting for the next recipe.

Meanwhile I had boiled 4 small chopped potatoes and started a large pot of water to boil the penne in.

I chopped one shallot and two more garlic cloves. I added them to 1 tbs hot olive oil with 1/2 cup sliced almonds and sauteed them until the almonds were golden brown.


And then I let them cool for a few minutes before putting them in the food processor with the harissa paste.


And then I gave it a good whir.


But looking at the recipe now as I put this post together, I realize I made yet another mistake with this recipe. I was also supposed to add the juice of one lemon at this point. I totally did not do that.

I proceeded to mix this pesto with the penne and potatoes as well as 2 tbs chopped arugula. I was also supposed to stir in some chopped basil but guess what? I didn’t have any! I had pretty much every other herb on hand EXCEPT basil. I am a very flaky cook, I’m sure you are now realizing.


And then I put it, imperfect as it was, into bowls so we could eat it. Samuelsson recommends parmesan on top. I tried that and it was surprisingly tasty. I didn’t expect it to be so because of the mixture of flavors.


Anyway, this was quite spicy (I like that!) and good, but not great. I made SO MANY MISTAKES, though, that I plan to try making it again, but correctly.


11 thoughts on “Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Penne

  1. I’m glad you liked it in its imperfect state; will be interested to see how much better you like it “done correctly.”

    We’re still cooking with last year’s basil – we froze them in ice cubes – and have just planted this year’s. We are trying out Thai basil for the first time.

    • I KNOW! it’s soooo much! i used parts of three bottles and it still wasn’t quite enough. i don’t know why i had three bottles around. i need to organize my spices, i think.

  2. That sure is a whole lotta chili powder! I can see why you ran out! I really liked that book too and want to try something with harissa.

    • lol you can make it too! i should try that. i make my own taco seasoning, but i’ve never made my own chili powder because i like the kind i buy so much. except for the chipotle one. that gets used sparingly in specific things, or in emergencies when i run out of the other.

  3. Yes, we just picked the leaves, put them in ice trays, filled them with water, and froze them. When they were frozen, popped them and put them in freezer bags to save space.

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