St. Joseph is the patron saint of Sicily and March 19th is his feast day. This recipe is in honor of all my Sicilian friends who celebrate his day with this traditional dish. This is a basic recipe and I’m sure everybody’s grandmother makes it a little differently but if you’ve never made it before this is a good start.
Boil the fennel in 4 quarts of salted water for 10 minutes then drain, saving the water to cook the pasta, chop the fennel and set aside.
Fry onion in oil with salt, black and red pepper. Add anchovy to onions and dissolve. Cook onions at a low heat until soft but not brown. Add fennel to onions and mix thoroughly. Add pinoles and rehydrated raisins to sauce. Keep heat low.
Dissolve saffron in ½ cup of warm water. Add some to pasta water and the rest to the sauce.
Cut the filets into four pieces, raise heat, add to the sauce and cook for a few minutes.
For the pasta: Cook the buccatelli in the water that you used to boil the fennel. Add the cooked pasta and 1/2 cup of the pasta water to the sauce and toss gently so you don’t break the fillets.
Place pasta in a large serving bowl and top with some of the toasted bread crumbs (click here for recipe). No cheese on this pasta!
Happy Sunday – This is about the Sunday gravy I grew up with. It’s tomato sauce with meat but really much more. My mother started it in the morning and simmered it on a very low heat until the last of the family was home from the 12:30 Mass. My father and I went to the 9 o’clock mass and brought home something for breakfast – usually Danish, crullers and jelly donuts. After we ate, my father would grate enough parmigiana for the meal and my mother would begin by browning the various meats in lard – usually meat balls, sausage, short ribs and beef braciole. It would vary sometimes with ox tail or a pig skin braciole called cotechinata or in my family’s Napolitano dialect – gaudiga. It wasn’t my favorite. I always imagined I was eating a cooked football.
After talking to my sisters Nicki and Rochelle I came up with the following preparation for one pound of pasta:
Heat some olive oil (or lard if you don’t mind high cholesterol) and lightly brown whatever meat you’re using adding salt and black pepper. Do it in batches so it browns and doesn’t get crowded and steam. Remove the meat, add and lightly brown garlic (no onions) in the same pot. Return the meat and add one large can each, crushed tomatoes and tomato puree and stir. Add two small cans (6 oz.) tomato paste. Fill the two cans with water (you can use red wine instead although my mother never cooked with wine)to remove any paste remaining in cans, add to the sauce and stir until it’s smooth. Add 3 or 4 basil stems with leaves, either fresh or preserved in oil, some red pepper flakes and simmer for as long as it takes for the toughest meat to be done.
For most people this is a big meal but we ate it between an elaborate ante pasta and a roast meat and vegetable course. Sunday dinner was served at 2 PM so at about 7 or 8 in the evening my mother would serve re-heated lunch leftovers.
A few words about tomatoes and pasta…
It’s more than acceptable to use canned tomatoes if they are San Marzano and there are no other ingredients (spices/flavorings) added to the can.
If you want to use fresh you have to peel and seed them. Put them in boiling water and wait until the outer thin skin cracks. Run them under cold water and peel with your fingers. Cut it on the equator and take each half, squeeze and shake out the seeds. Cut off the stem end and remove some of the core. Chop and you’re ready to cook.
For the pasta use more water than you’d think you’d need. Add a lot of salt (it can only absorb so much). Some chefs say no oil in the water because it is absorbed by the pasta and prevents the sauce for adhering. Others say a few drops of oil helps prevent the pasta from sticking and adds a little flavor. I’ll leave it up to you. Cook until it’s done the way you like it and don’t worry about the Al Dente Police raiding your kitchen.
Ravioli – My mother, aunts and grandmother never used anything but a ricotta mix for stuffing. Since we never ate in Italian restaurants I didn’t know they could be made with meat or anything else (pumpkin?) until I was almost an adult. My family’s ravioli were square, large, sealed by crimping with a dinner fork, then laid out on a clean sheet on the bed to dry before cooking. If you’re in New York you can get good ones at Piemonte on Grand near Mulberry Streets or http://www.pastosa.com/.
This is just about the height of La Cucina Povera. What’s less expensive and more filling than pasta and potatoes to feed a hungry family? My mother made this fairly often because it was a family tradition but would never serve it to guests – it wasn’t good enough. She pronounced it in Napolitano dialect as basta badon. It’s really a minestra, that is, sort of a soupy pasta with vegatables.
A quarter pound of meat for a little protein and extra flavor – some parsley to give a bit of color to a white on white dish, and there you have it. Recently my teenage granddaughter Molly came for dinner with a group of her hungry friends. We served six or seven courses with this as the pasta course. Of course it didn’t have the traditional poverty connotation for them and they said it was their favorite course of the dinner. Food doesn’t have to be expensive to be good.
¼ lb pancetta (or prosciutto) cut into small pieces
1 medium onion
4 small tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped
3 Idaho potatoes cut into 1 inch cubes
salt & black pepper
1 lb small pasta
5 oz parmesan cheese
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
Sautee the pancetta and chopped onions until lightly browned. Add the tomatoes and stir until they release their juice. Add potatoes and mix. Cover just barely with water and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are almost done. Remove about 1 cup of the soup, puree it and return it to the pot.
Drain the pasta when it is almost done, saving the water. Add the pasta to the soup to finish cooking and also add as much pasta water as you need to make a soupy consistency. Mix in the cheese. Sprinkle with parsley for a little color and serve with additional parmesan cheese.
My Aunt Lena got this recipe from a chef in Salerno. He told her the idea was that a woman could be out with her boyfriend all day and serve this to her husband when he got home – with him thinking that it took her all day to cook it when it wasn’t cooked at all.
4 large tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup chopped basil
¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
Salt & coarse black pepper
½ cup olive oil
Put the tomatoes in boiling water for a few minutes until the skin cracks, then run cold water over them and peel off their skin. Cut them in half across the core and squeeze out the seeds. Finely chop and put them in a large serving bowl. Add garlic, basil, parsley, salt & pepper and cover with ½ cup of olive oil.
A few optional additions: chopped anchovies, drained capers, chopped olives.
The ingredients should all be at room temperature before mixing with 1 lb. just cooked spaghetti. The heat from the hot pasta will be all it needs.
Raw Puttanesca is kind of a light and delicate summery sauce that’s almost a salad, so no cheese unless you must.