“I wanted it to be a comprehensive book on the Italian cucina povera tradition,” said Scarpaleggia. “There had to be weeknight meal ideas, something you could quickly stir together with pantry ingredients; seasonal recipes, where the freshness of the produce could shine through simple preparations; and celebratory dishes, designed to feed small crowds and exalt the Italian joy of conviviality”.
Pasta e patate is one of the book’s tastiest recipes, layering carb upon carb, cemented with soft melted cheese. Simply, it is comfort food at its best.
“My grandma Marcella learned to cook pasta with potatoes from my Aunt Valeria, who was from Basilicata, in the south of Italy,” Scarpaleggia explained. “From that day of many, many years ago, she developed her own recipe, revised according to our ingredients, to her personal taste and cooking style. For example, instead of caciocavallo, a hard and sharp-flavoured, pear-shaped cheese from the south of Italy, we use grated Parmigiano Reggiano and also the leftover crusts of Parmigiano, cut into cubes. Once you boil them for a while, they become soft and chewy, giving an intense flavour to the broth”.
Throughout Italy, many versions of pasta e patate exist with varying ingredients and cooking methods, and while Scarpaleggia has fond memories of her grandmother’s recipe, the book’s pasta e patate recipe is more in line with the traditional version from Naples.
“The Neapolitan version, neither a soup nor a simple plate of pasta, is usually described as azzeccata, dense, creamy and well mixed, thanks to the stringy melted provolone cheese that binds it all together,” explained Scarpaleggia. “A key ingredient is a Parmigiano Reggiano rind that cooks with the pasta and potatoes, adding depth of flavour to the dish”.
Scarpaleggi’s recipe starts with a foundation of onion, celery and garlic, which are softened in extra virgin olive oil. White potatoes and pancetta are added, followed by water, tomatoes and a Parmigiano Reggiano rind. Scarpaleggia suggests cooking the potatoes until perfectly soft, checking their doneness by mashing the potatoes against the sides of the pot with a wooden spoon. If the potatoes can easily be mashed, they’re done.
The next stage is adding pasta mista. This mixture of pasta shapes is an exemplary example of cucina povera, originating in Naples as a blend of leftover pasta cuts from factories to prevent any waste. Once the pasta mista is al dente, both grated and cubed provolone cheese are stirred in until melted and creamy.
“I used to prepare pasta e patate as my grandmother would do, until I tried the Neapolitan version,” said Scarpaleggia. “We were sitting in this little, crowded, loud eatery in a neighbourhood market with some friends when I spotted pasta e patate on the menu. I had to have it, especially because it was made with provola [provolone], a delicious local cheese. That literally changed my life, it was comfort on a plate!”
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