30 August 2012

AUNTIE PASTA: Pretty Peppery

SARONNO, Italy – There is no shortage of pasta salad recipes on the internet, but today’s pasta salad has a bit of a twist, it contains cooked green peppers. It’s not unusual to find peppers in pasta salads, they are an essential ingredient in Italian cooking along with tomatoes, pasta, olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, but cooked peppers, that's something else.  
Lots of Pastas for Pasta Salad
But peppers were not always part of Italian cuisine. They were brought to Europe after Christopher Columbus discovered America by the Spanish and Portuguese who had been sent to the Americas to claim land for Spain.

The Spaniards began bringing back to Europe some of the vegetables they saw the Aztec Indians of South America eating, vegetables like peppers, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, pumpkins and squash, which none of which the Europeans, including the Italians had ever seen before. Like tomatoes, when pepper plants were first introduced in Europe, the Europeans thought peppers were poisonous and only used them for ornamental purposes. Today, three-fifths of the vegetables that we eat today originally came from the land of the Aztecs, the people Columbus named Indians. He was a little bit confused you see, and didn’t know where he was. He thought he had landed in the East Indies, instead he was in what would later be named the Americas. 
   I Pepperoni Sono Troppo Belli
Mediterranean Pasta Salad

Serves 6

5 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound (500 grams) farfalle (bow-tie) pasta, freshly cooked, rinsed, drained
1pound (500 grams) cooked deveined peeled shrimp, cut lengthwise in half
½ cup finely chopped sweet red onion
½ cup each of diced red, green and yellow peppers fried in olive oil and garlic
 3/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil

Mix the farfalle, shrimp, onion, and (cooled to room temperature) fried peppers in a large bowl and toss to mix. Add additional olive oil if needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

You can also add crab meat, mussels, chopped hard sausage, cooked and cubed chicken or turkey breast, chopped fresh tomatoes, black olives and scallions. Pasta is the most wonderful food, it’s like a blank canvas, happy to take on whatever you want, or whatever you have on hand, to add to it.

Insiders Tip: Here in Italy Italian cooks start frying peppers (and onions) in a little olive oil and after they have cooked for several minutes, they add a half a ladle (more or less) of hot water to the pan and cover it. They let the peppers (or onions) steam over low heat, and when they are soft they take the lid off of the pan and in a minute or so the peppers, or onions, start frying once again.

I confess I steam both peppers and onions in a covered dish in the microwave before I fry them. The flavor may not be as intense as doing it the Italian way, but it saves me time and the bother of having to hover over the stove watching the pan for the right time to remove the lid. Just don’t tell anyone I told you this. I wouldn’t want my darkest, deepest cooking secrets to get around.

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