16 September 2015

AUNTIE PASTA: Mediterranean Pasta Salad

CHIAVARI, Italy – You probably already know 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 in a cold salad, that's something else.  
 All Kinds of Pasta Make Good Salads
Peppers were not always part of Italian cuisine. They were brought to Europe after Christopher Columbus discovered America. It was the Spanish and Portuguese explorers who had been sent to the Americas to claim land for Spain who brought them back. I’m sure the King and Queen of Spain were just thrilled when the explorers carried crates of peppers to the Royal Palace instead of crates of gold, although they brought plenty of gold as well.

As the Spaniards began bringing the vegetables they saw the Aztec Indians of South America eating, vegetables like peppers, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, pumpkins and squash, they caused quite a stir. None of the Europeans, including the Italians, had ever seen anything like them, and frankly, they were a little suspicious of these strange looking plants. 

They believed tomatoes and peppers were poisonous and only used them for ornamental purposes. Today, three-fifths of the vegetables that we eat 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. 


Serves 6

5 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound (500 grams) farfalle (bow-tie) or fusilli pasta, freshly cooked and 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 any of the following instead of, or together with the shrimp: 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 almost anything you want to mix with 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 deepest, darkest cooking secrets to get around.

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