28 February 2013

AUNTIE PASTA: Pasta with What? Potatoes???

CHIAVARI, Italy – Pasta with potatoes is a classic in Neapolitan cuisine that has as many variations as there are peas in a pod. You can make it with tomatoes, without tomatoes, with pancetta, without pancetta, with celery or without, with fat pasta like rigatoni or with skinny pasta like spagettini, the choice is yours.  You can even use all those left over bits of (uncooked) pastas we all seem to have in our cupboards, mixed together, which is what one recipe I saw called for.  

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The only constant ingredient seemed to be smoked provolo cheese, and then I found a Sardinian recipe that only used pecorino. Even cooking techniques differed. In the Neapolitan and Pugliese recipes the potatoes and pasta are cooked together with onions in either broth or water, while in the Sardinian version the pasta and potatoes are cooked together in water and then added to the onions, which have been cooked in another pan.

The variations only mean one thing: this is a true home-style recipe that evolved from the kitchens of Italian grandmothers trying to put a nourishing meal on the table for their families using the ingredients they found in their kitchens. It’s an example of the creativity that springs from the very roots of Italian culinary culture and it is how the Italian cuisine developed.  

 Pasta with Potatoes
Here is the ‘no holds barred’ version which uses everything you would find in an Italian cupboard on a good day, but don’t hesitate to adapt the recipe to what you find in your own cupboard – good day or not.

Pasta with Potatoes
Serves 6

500 grams/1 lb. Potatoes (best not to use new potatoes)
1 white onion, finely chopped
1 peperoncino (or flakes) finely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil (as needed)
Grated parmigiano cheese (as needed)
Mixed pastas (a little more than half a pound) (300 grams)
1 can of peeled tomatoes, 250 grams
100 grams (5 tablespoons) of smoked provolo cheese cut into small cubes
70 grams (2 ½ ounces) Italian pancetta
Small piece of parmigiano rind

Peel and cube the potatoes, set aside.
Put a liter of water to boil on a back burner. When it starts to boil, turn it down and keep it simmering. You’ll need it when you start to cook the pasta.

In a deep pan, fry the onion, the peperoncino, the parmigiano rind and the pancetta together in olive oil. When the onion is golden, add the cubed potatoes and the tomatoes and let them cook together for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover the potatoes with enough boiling water to cover them, and let them cook for 20 minutes. When the potatoes are cooked, add the pasta and enough additional simmering water to cook the it.

When the pasta is cooked, add the cubed provola and mix it in using a wooden spoon. It’s important to always stir in the same direction so the provola melts evenly and doesn’t become one big ball of cheese. Add salt if needed, then add grated parmigiano and cover the pot and let the pasta and potatoes sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.

This is a fast and simple dish that you can serve soupy or kind of dry, the choice is yours. The only risk is not adding enough water (or broth) when you are cooking the pasta, or adding too much. The best way to avoid this is to add the boiling liquid a little at a time. That way you can regulate how soupy or dry you want it. Remember too, that the water you add has to be at the boiling point or the cooking process will stop.

Other variations: add a chopped celery stalk and/or a spring of fresh rosemary to the potatoes when you are cooking them. You can also use chopped fresh tomatoes instead of canned peeled tomatoes, or no tomatoes.  


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