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Two Sicilian pastas

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I checked Paula Wolfert’s cookbook Mostly Mediterranean out of the library and was really enjoying reading it and drooling over the recipes–seriously the most fun I’ve had reading a cookbook for a long time. It had been ages since I felt really inspired from reading a cookbook, but this one had the right mixture of history/culture, personal observations and opinions, and novel flavor combinations to keep my attention.

I actually brought it to the store today and bought ingredients for a couple of the recipes. I was going to make pasta alla Norma for dinner, but got sidetracked at the last minute and decided to make pasta con le sarde instead. Then, while I was preparing the pasta con le sarde, I decided to go back to plan A and make at least the sauce for the pasta alla Norma for later this week, since it was a Sunday afternoon and I had a lot of time. We took a break after dinner to help our friend Beth move some furniture, and I finished making the sauce and frying the eggplant after we came home.

Pasta con le sarde

2 cups packed, mixed leaves of fresh bulb fennel and fresh dillweed, or 3 stalks California wild fennel (I used one bulb of fennel from the store, for cost reasons, and thought longingly of the roadside fennel that grows as a weed everywhere in California)

2 Tbsp currants

1 piece sun-dried tomato, cut into small pieces (I didn’t use this)

2 pinches saffron in 1/4 cup hot water (just noticed it specifies pulverized saffron–I just used threads)

6 Tbsp EVOO

1/2 cup finely chopped onion (It doesn’t mention what type; I substituted one small Vidalia sweet onion, which I had accidentally bought 5 lbs of from the store, but which is almost assuredly not what they use in Sicily)

7 flat fillets of anchovy, drained, rinsed, and chopped

1/4 tsp powdered fennel seed, if using mixed greens, or a pinch of sugar, if using wild fennel (I just added whole fennel seed, since I don’t have a spice mill)

2 Tbsp pine nuts

2 4-ounce cans boneless sardines in olive oil, preferably Italian, French, or Portuguese, drained, or 12 fresh sardines (I used one can of Vigo sardines)

Salt

Pepper

1/2 lb bucatini or other long hollow pasta (I substituted regular spaghetti–white instead of whole wheat, and I was surprised all anew at how good it tastes compared to whole wheat pasta, which I’d gotten used to using for health reasons, but don’t especially like…)

Cook the greens in salted water until tender (about 15 mins), scoop out, drain and press out extra moisture, and chop roughly (she says in a food processor, I used a knife). Reserve the fennel water.

Soak the currants and tomato in saffron-tinted hot water for 10 mins.

Cook the onions in a skillet until soft and golden. (I also chopped and cooked the fennel bulb–she says to use it in something else, but I was short on green matter anyway so I figured it couldn’t hurt, and it turned out fine.) Add the anchovies and crush them well with a fork. Cook for a minute.

Add the greens, currants/tomato/saffron liquid, fennel seed/sugar, pine nuts, and 1/2 cup of the fennel cooking water to the skillet. Cook for a few minutes, then add the canned sardines, crushing a few of them into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper, and moisten the sauce with the fennel water as necessary.

Cook the pasta in the rest of the fennel water (plus regular water, of course) and toss together.

I really enjoyed this! It’s a very peculiar-sounding dish, and I was afraid I wouldn’t like it–I had it once in the past, at the Sicilian restaurant on College near Ashby in Berkeley, and didn’t remember really caring for it. But I liked it a lot this time. Surprisingly, Rahul did too, although he complained about the currants, as expected, and we had the following conversation when he saw the sauce:
“What’s the green stuff?”
“Fennel.”
“Oh, I thought when you said you were making something with fennel that you were going to use real fennel.” (AKA fennel seed. He has recently discovered how delicious it is)

Pasta alla Norma

6-7 oz. brick of ricotta salata (they didn’t have this at Kroger, so I bought a knob of smoked mozzarella to use instead. Unconventional, but hopefully tasty)
2 lbs stewed Italian-style canned tomatoes, or 3.5 lbs ripe Roma tomatoes, washed, cored, seeded, and gently crushed (I used 2 14.5 oz. cans)
1 tsp chopped garlic (I used 2 cloves)
1 small piece of dried peperoncino or 1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes (I used considerably more)
2 Tbsp finely chopped onion (I used considerably more, 1 small Vidalia onion)
4 Tbsp EVOO
3 Tbsp shredded fresh basil leaves (hopefully I’ll remember to add these tomorrow; right now there’s only about 1 tsp in the sauce)
2 lbs. (4-5) small Italian eggplants (I used one large 1-lb eggplant)
Salt, frying oil (she says olive, I used vegetable), pepper
12 oz. penne, mezzani, spaghetti, or canestrini

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Toast the cheese on a flat baking dish, turning often, until golden brown on all sides, about 20 mins.
Cool it completely, then rub it over the large holes of a box grater. (makes about 1 cup, loosely packed.) Set aside.

Meanwhile, simmer the tomatoes, their juices, the garlic, and hot pepper in a saucepan for 20 mins or until thickened.

In a small skillet, cook the onion in oil until just soft but not brown.

Add the contents of the skillet to the tomatoes and press through the finest blade of a foodmill (I blended it with a hand blender).

Reheat the sauce, stir in the basil leaves, and correct the seasoning, adding sugar and baking soda as necessary to balance the acidity. Makes 1.5 cups. (I think I have a lot more than that)

Cut each eggplant lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices (about 32 of them). Larger eggplants should be peeled. Soak the eggplant in cold salted water for 30 mins., then drain and pat dry.

Pour the oil to 1/2 inch deep in an 8-inch skillet, slowly heat it to 375 to 390 degrees, then fry the eggplant, turning once, until it is golden on both sides with a crackling peel. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and toss with almost all the tomato sauce and half the cheese. Layer the pasta as follows: 1/2 pasta, 1/2 eggplant, 1/2 pasta, 1/2 eggplant, drizzle with tomato sauce and cover with all remaining cheese. Heat in the oven for 5 mins and serve at once.

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Written by orata

June 8, 2008 at 10:41 pm

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