Sunday, 5 June 2011

Recipe XII - Pasta alla Puttanesca

Italian food is not known for its spiciness. In fact, it is quite a parochial cuisine, being based on 5 principle ingredients (green-red vegetables, meat/fish, onion, garlic, olive oil) with add-ons to vary the flavour, like cheese and herbs, but it is still quite interesting to see what can be done with those five ingredients. In this recipe, spice makes a dramatic entrance into this most limited of national cuisines. It is also surprising how much Italians rely on canned produce to make up their dishes.

This particular dish was served by the prostitutes of Italian ports looking to serve something hearty to their clients, hence the name.

Olive oil
5 cloves of garlic, diced finely
1 tin of anchovies is usual, but I use tuna as it does not have such a salty taste, considering the other ingredients
2-3 red pepperoni or some chili powder if not to hand
1 red pepper
1 large onion
Half a cup of capers
A large handful of pitted black olives (chopped or whole according to preference)
A tin of diced tomatoes or a carton of tomato passata
Fresh herbs (parsley is usually recommended, but I like to add thyme and basil)
Some red wine (optional)
A 500g pack of penne rigate or farfalle

Put the olive oil into a rounded frying pan and put the cooker on a medium-hot setting. Once the oil is hot (you can tell by putting one piece of finely diced garlic or onion and seeing if it bubbles), throw in the onions and peppers.
Sweat them for a few minutes until they are soft but not browning. If you choose chili powdder, now is the time to add it.
Add the tuna, garlic, pepperoni, capers and olives and allow the mixture to blend into itself.
Meanwhile, heat up a saucepan of salted water. Once boiling, put the pasta into it and follow timing instructions.
Add the herbs, then the passata. Turn down the heat and allow the ingredients to mix well into each other. Some people do this for ten minutes, others for whole hours. It is up to you, but use a lid if you are leaving it on for a longer time.
Once the pasta is cooked (remember, pasta al dente is about a minute short of full cooking time, and makes the pasta much more solid rather than that dinner-hall pulp served in staff canteens) put it into the sauce and mix it all together until it forms a homogeneised consistency. Serve hot, drizzle olive oil over the top.

Other options:
CHEESE: Some choose to add mozzarella to it early on to dissolve into the sauce but in such a spicy dish, this makes little or no difference. What does, though, is the cheese you use. Some purists will guffaw at the following idea, but what is a recipe without a tweak? I personally think grated English Cheddar is the ideal cheese topping for tomato-based sauces, and I defy anyone who has not tried it to disagree! Failing that, Cacciotta di Pecora is an ideal alternative to Parmigiano, which I have always found a trifle too powdery.

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