Saturday, March 5, 2011

Italy Dish by Dish

I'm pleased to announce the publication of my new book, Italy Dish by Dish.  Well, mine per moda di dire, so to speak - I translated Mangia Italiano, a guide to the regional specialities of Italy written by Monica Cesari Sartoni, from  Italian to English.
I bought the original about 15 years ago in Italy and it has accompanied me on every trip that I make to that country.  When the publisher -The Little Bookroom - of my book, Shopping in Marrakech talked about wanting to find an in-depth guide book to both Italian and French cuisines for the traveler, I said, "I've got an Italian one for you".   Fast-forward, I spent most of the dreary months of last winter simultaneously translating the mouth-watering text, and  starved, with every word that glided into English from the original Italian.  The guidebook is divided by the regions of Italy and within each region there are entries for every part of a meal from antipasti to vini .   The descriptions of each dish most often include the ingredients of the dish and  the method of  its preparation.   Hmmm, I thought - for those with a little knowledge of cooking most of the delicious descriptions can easily be turned into delicious food.
I chose a really easy entry for my first try.  

In the Campania part of the book, in the section entitled, "Pasta, Gnocchi, Rice, Polenta, and Grains"  there's an entry for Fusilli alla vesuviana, that reads, " twisted pasta shapes dressed with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, pecorino and oregano and then baked".
Naples is the capital city of  the  region of Campania.  You could say that tomatoes, mozzarella and oregano are emblematic foods of the area.  
I made the description into a recipe in the first few days of March, in New York City.  Alas, no fresh tomatoes.  I cheated the flavor a bit by mixing a cooked, simple tomato sauce (that I mentioned in the last blog entry) with some chopped, fresh cherry tomatoes.  At this time of  the year, organic cherry or grape tomatoes seem to have more flavor than any other, very red, so-called fresh tomatoes. To my palate, those tomatoes taste something like a cross between a pink angora sweater and and an unripe watermelon. Save this recipe to make again, sometime in August,  with big thick slices of  fabulous, slurpy heirloom tomatoes.
Here's what I came up with:

Serve 6 - 8

Make a simple tomato sauce:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 or 3 cloves garlic peeled, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
1 hot pepper, minced
1 35-ounce  (2 pounds, 3 ounces) tin of  peeled San Marzano (from Campania) tomatoes, stem end removed and squeezed through your hands
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt

1.   Add the olive oil, garlic and hot pepper to a deep saucepan over medium heat and saute until the garlic is golden about 90 seconds.  Add the tomatoes, oregano and salt.  Cook until the sauce is slightly reduced, about 30 - 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, add 1 pound fusilli (I used cavatappi , because I had them in my pantry) to a large pot of boiling, salted water, and cook according to the  manufacturer's directions.  Drain and run cool water over them to completely halt the cooking.

Coarsely chop 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes.

Cut 3/4 pound whole milk mozzarella in to 1/4-inch cubes - should yield 2 cups.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Add the cooked pasta, 2 cups of the simple tomato sauce - garlic removed (there will be some leftover - store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer for future use), the chopped fresh tomatoes, and mozzarella to a large bowl and stir to combine. Taste for salt and add as needed (remember that the pecorino cheese topping will add lots of salt).   Add the mixture to a baking dish.  Sprinkle the top with 1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese.  Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the top.   Bake until the top is golden and the sides of the dish are bubbling, about 30 minutes.   Serve immediately.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:  I want to believe that this dish is called alla vesuviana not only for  Mount Vesuvius, which is the background to Naples, but also because of the way the mozzarella erupts inside the pasta, just like the volcano on top of the mountain  has - well, at least once in the last 100 years.

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