Saturday, November 1, 2008

Basilicata (part two)

Welcom back to Basilicata -- #17, below, the arch of the boot, between Calabria to the south and Puglia to the north, with waterfront on both seas, east and west. The key to the culinary pleasures -- the pasta -- of Basilicata is the nature of the flour: this is the finely ground semolina durum wheat flour that is the prize ingredient in so much of the pasta in the south. One of the most common shapes, of course, is the classic orecchiette, the ear-shaped. One of the more unusual and site-specific pastas of the region, is that shown below. This is the scorze de mandorle, shown below. This is almond-shaped pasta, made in a similar manner as orecchiette by creating hand-made rolls of pasta; then cutting the roll into one-inch wide pieces, and molding the pieces to the shape one wants. This pasta can be either just the semolina durum, or it can have almond flakes added to the pasta dough. Very special!

Another specialty of Basilicata is the Senise pepper (below). Writing in a Gourmet magazine article on Basilicata in 2006 (from which the pepper photo is taken), Evan Kleiman describes the pepperone de Senise: "named from one of the southern towns in which it is grown, it is long, thin-walled, and deep red when mature. Even the sweetest among them have the depth of flavor associated with a spicy pepper. In season, they are used fresh, bu the dried version, the paprika, is used in many of the regional dishes. When they are dried they are also made into crunchy cruschi peppers, which are quickly deep-fried, then cooled." You can't eat just one, he says.

All of the fresh pastas are normally served with a tomato-based sauce (peppery, frequently, as above), and topped with a regional pecorino.

An excellent regional dish can be found at, just click on "pasta" then on "orecchiette" and on "orecchiette with cauliflower and tomato". This is a classic.

Here is an unusual combination, adapted from the same Eric Kleiman in Gourmet:

Pasta with an arugula pesto and cherry-tomato sauce

Prepare the pesto:

  • six cups of roughly chopped arugula
  • two tablespoons of pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • one-half cup extra virgin olive oil
  • four tablespoons freshly grated pecorino

    Put the pine nuts in a blender or food processor, and pulse until finely ground, but not too fine. Add the arugula, the olive oil, the pecorino, a teaspoon of salt, and pulse again until almost smooth.

the tomato sauce:

  • three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • three garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
  • six cups of cherry tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • one teaspoon salt

Heat the oil in a saute pan over moderate heat, add the garlic and cook until the garlic just starts to sizzle. Add the tomatoes and the salt, and cook over light heat, stirring regularly, for about fifteen minutes. The tomatoes should just be starting to break down.

For the pasta: one pound of the aforementioned scorze di mandorie, if one can find it, or make it; or orecchiette; or, most usually, a fettuccine of the south -- dried -- made by hand with just water and semolina. Cook the fettuccine in five quarts of boiling water (with a tablespoon of salt) until al dente. Drain, reserving a cup of the pasta liquid. Return the pasta to the pot, add the arugula pesto and stir to get well-coated. Add some reserved liquid if too dry.

Transfer to pre-heated bowls or plates, top with the tomato sauce and some extra pecorino, and serve.