Monday, March 17, 2014

Passport to Italy - Pasta di San Giovanello

Lately, I've been thinking more and more about returning to Italy. Maybe it's this seemingly endless cold weather we've been experiencing, or perhaps that unshakeable late winter feeling of needing a vacation! Whatever the cause, I take great pleasure in conjuring up memories of last summer's trip to Rome and the Amalfi coast

Me and the Mr. overlooking gorgeous Positano 
Since European travel doesn't seem to be in the cards this year, those remote Southern Italian towns I dream of exploring will have to come to me by way of my dinner plate (not a bad way to do some imaginary travel). 

I decided not to include today's delicious vegetarian pasta as part of our series, Italian Pasta Classics, which, if you've been following, is the feature where I share the recipes for Italy's most loved and famed pasta dishes. This is because "Pasta di San Giovanello", a specialty native to Puglia (the region that makes up the heel of the Italian boot), seems to fly just a bit under the radar. 

Pasta di San Giovanello - Tomato Sauce, Breadcrumbs, Melted Anchovy, Garlic and Almonds, Photo: NK 

Thanks to an extremely informal poll of a small group of food-savvy native Southern Italians in my circle, I determined that though just a few people had heard of the dish, there was significant disagreement about its true ingredients. One Sicilian-born friend observed that he knew Pasta di San Giovanello to be something more like Puttanesca sauce

Mario Batali, from whom we borrow today's recipe, does indeed note that the components of this hearty and satisfying Southern Italian dish are hotly contested (particularly today's addition of sliced almonds). What follows below is the recipe Mario describes as his favorite iteration of the dish to date, one that he enjoyed in a small osteria in the town of Brindisi on the very important feast day this pasta is named for - the eve of the feast of St. John the Baptist (aka: San Giovanni Battista or San Giovanello) which is marked on June 24th, though celebrations vary worldwide, some taking place on the eve of the feast, some the day of, and others continuing for several! Rest assured, though ingredients vary, this dish is just delicious. It's also a great way to stretch a small portion of leftover tomato sauce (just 1.5 cups is needed for a dish that feeds 4 to 6 people). And away we go: 

St. John's Eve Pasta/Pasta di San Giovanello

Recipe by Mario Batali, from Molto Italiano 
Serves 6

3/4 Cup Sliced Blanched Almonds
1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Cups fresh or store-bought plain Bread Crumbs 
4 fine quality Anchovies, salt (or oil) packed, chopped
Black Pepper
1 White Onion, finely chopped
1 large clove Garlic, finely chopped 
1.5 Cups Tomato Sauce of your choice or Mario's Recipe HERE 
8 Fresh Basil Leaves, chiffonade (aka cut into thin ribbons).
1 Pound long, wide pasta such as Lasagnette, Pappardelle or (Mafalde - what we used) 

Almond and Bread Crumb Mixture, Photo: NK
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil - use about 2 tablespoons salt. 

2. Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, gently toast the sliced almonds and 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over a medium flame until nuts begin to brown just a bit. Remove almonds to a plate. 

3. In the remaining oil, toast the bread crumbs, stirring them often until the become golden brown and somewhat crispy. Combine breadcrumbs and almonds in a bowl and set aside. 

4. Add 2 Tablespoons additional olive oil to the pan you used for the breadcrumbs. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in the anchovies, using your spoon to crush them into the oil so they begin to dissolve. Stir until they melt into the oil, this should take a minute or so. Pour the anchovy and oil mixture over the breadcrumbs and almond mix and season it with black pepper before setting aside. 

Sauce Coming Together, Photo: NK 
5. Add the remaining 5 Tablespoons olive oil to the pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook over medium-low heat until onions soften but do not brown. Stir occasionally, about 2-3 minutes. 

6. Add the tomato sauce to the pan with the onion and bring the mixture to a "brisk simmer" and let it cook until the sauce has reduced by about one third in volume. Add basil ribbons and turn heat off. 

7. By this time your pasta water should be boiling. Add the pasta to the water and cook according to package directions until just al dente. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the sauce. Add half of the almond and breadcrumb mixture and toss to combine well. 

8. Transfer the pasta to warmed serving bowls and sprinkle them with the leftover breadcrumb mixture. Serve right away! 

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