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The Cookstr 10: Ten Recipes for la Pasta Italiana

March 18, 2010

This edition of the Cookstr 10 is dedicated to Marco Polo, the Venetian, who, amongst other accomplishments, purportedly brought pasta to Italy from China. There are a number of theories on the subject, but frankly we just want to thank someone for making the introduction, and he seems to be the one with the most credit for the job.

From the north to the south, in the sleepiest villages and the most chic cities, pasta reigns supreme throughout Italy. You probably know that they serve more restrained portions than we tend to here in the States, and that the sauce is meant to be a complement to the noodles, and not a torrential downpour. Also, that the pasta itself should be cooked until it is just al dente (meaning “to the tooth” or slightly chewy). Cookstr is lucky enough to have recipes from the most authoritative pasta experts around, and whether you roll up your sleeves and roll out fresh pasta for the first time, or simply stir up a pot of irresistible Basic Tomato Sauce, you’ll be in good hands.

Fettuccine with Spring Vegetables by Giuliano Hazan

Because at this time of year we are doing the tarentella from winter into spring, these recipes reflect the bridging of the seasons. Buon appetito, and pass the Parmigiano.

1. Marcella Hazan’s Cannelloni with Asparagus and Ham (Cannelloni con gli Asparagi). The spring-like filling of these cannelloni will dazzle your guests, as will the surprising lightness of the stuffed pasta rolls (we’re assuming you’re making these for company–you’re certainly going to want some praise for the fruits of your labor!). This is a recipe that will incentivize to you break out the flour and eggs and make your own pasta, which is a wonderful lot of fun.

2. Wanda Tornabene and Giovanna Tornabene’s Bucato with a Carnival of Sweet Peppers (Bucato con Carnevale di Peperoni Dolci). “Carnival” is the perfect name for this dish, which is a riot of colored bell peppers, sautéed and then braised in broth until very sweet and soft, topped with a generous cascade of fresh Parmesan. Bucato is the pasta, a long thick spaghetti-like strand with a hollow center. Bucatini is the version with a slightly smaller diameter, and may be more readily available.

3. Michele Scicolone’s Marinara Sauce (Salsa Marinara). Simple but essential, this is the proverbial little black dress of pasta sauces. This version is made with crushed whole garlic cloves, which lightly flavor the sauce before they are scooped out and tossed. Invest in high quality tomatoes, whether canned or fresh, since they are clearly the star of the show.

4. Lidia Bastianich’s Sauce of Broccoli di Rape with Ceci (Chickpeas) and Bacon. A classic with a ton of flavor, texture, and lots of good stuff to chase around with your fork. This recipe employs the simple but ingenious technique of using some of the pasta cooking water to create the sauce, which also pulls the ingredients together, thanks to the starch in the liquid. A liberal dose of grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil are the finishing touches.

5. Giuliano Hazan’s Fettuccine with Spring Vegetables (Fettuccine Primavera). This is one of the pasta dishes better known by its Italian name. Don’t undercook the vegetables here–cooking them thoroughly and then cooking them a bit further in the creamy sauce results in a vegetarian dish that makes spring feel as it if it has truly sprung.

6. Julia della Croce’s Spaghetti with Harlot’s Sauce (Spaghetti alla Puttanesca). This is a Neapolitan dish, and there are a number of stories that explain the origins of the dish, the most colorful being that prostitutes used to make this seriously assertive pasta to entice men with its aroma. You will certainly lure everyone to the table with this tomato sauce punched up with capers, anchovies, olives, herbs and red pepper.

7. Mario Batali’s Gnocchi with Fresh Tomatoes, Green Olives, and Smoked Mozzarella (Gnocchi al Pizzaiolo). Gnocchi are little pasta dumplings made from flour or cooked potatoes or, as in this case, both. They can be the base for any number of simple to sophisticated toppings, and when at their best they are a wonderful balance between light and satisfyingly chewy. Plum tomatoes are luckily available much of the year, and the smoked mozzarella is a bit of a twist, bouncing nicely off the saltiness of the green olives.

8. Cesare Casella’s Pasta Norma (Gemelli con Melanzane). This pasta originated in Sicily and has as its foundation a tempting heap of fried eggplant, which provides heft to this vegetarian sauce. Gemelli are substantial little twists of pasta that are very satisfying to chew.

9. Viana La Place’s Pasta with Young Artichokes, Parsley, and White Wine. Fresh baby artichokes are just minutes away from being in season, and they are so lovely and tender that you’ll want to highlight them in all sorts of dishes. Ask your wine store expert for help in choosing a perfect white for this simple penne rigate dish, since not all whites partner well with the minerally flavor of artichokes.

10. Rocco DiSpirito’s Orecchiette with Pesto Rosso. Orecchiette, the small, chewy pasta shaped like a “little ear,” is unique in its ability to hold little pools of sauce. In this case the topping is a garlicky tomato-based sauce rich with anchovies (please, please don’t scrunch up your nose until you’ve tried it!), fresh basil, and a platoon of jumbo shrimp slices.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 25, 2010 10:52 am

    Marco Polo did not bring pasta back to Italy from China. Recipes exist going back to the Etruscans and Romans that strongly indicate that pasta was a staple in the times of BC. The error arose as a result of a mistranslation of Polo’s diary.

  2. Katie Workman, Editor-in-Chief permalink*
    March 28, 2010 2:44 pm

    Wow, thanks for the info! Whoever invented noodles is a celebrity in our book.

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