So. Stella was a bust, at least around the Capital Beltway, where we got less than 2 inches of snow and plenty of slush and ice. Still, the forecast for the next few days promises wind and chill. In other words, a good excuse to make pasta e patate ~ pasta with potatoes.
Who would think of doubling up on carbs by combining these two ingredients? The Neapolitans, those masters of “cucina povera” who also brought us such clever dishes as eggplant meatballs (see The Glorious Vegetables of Italy for the recipe) and “Vermicelle cu’ ‘e vongole fujute,” ~ vermicelli noodles with “fugitive clam sauce;” in other words, plain tomato sauce. Like those dishes, pasta e patate is humble, but still manages to fill the belly and the soul.
Generally, pasta e patate calls for a little chopped pork fat, such as pancetta, to enrich the broth and boost flavor. But I’ve found it’s not necessary. Instead, I add something completely unconventional ~ smoked paprika. This Spanish staple adds warmth and depth; it is unexpected but altogether welcome. And it means this dish is suitable for Lent.
The bite-size green cubes in the photos are sautéed zucchini, which were left over from a previous night’s dinner. I tossed them in at the last minute and liked the result so I’ve added them to the recipe, which is slightly adapted from the one in my first book, The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy.
This rustic dish is too thick to be called a soup, but it’s not quite “pasta asciutta” (pasta with sauce) either. It is, most definitely, a bowl of comfort food. I suggest you eat it with a spoon, to scoop up the saucy broth ~ or brothy sauce.
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NEWS AND NOTES
Join me this Saturday, March 18, for a cooking class at Culinaria Cooking School, in Vienna, VA. We’ll be making an early spring menu: Gnocchi di Semolina in Brodo (semolina gnocchi in homemade broth); Gabriella’s Pot Roast; Arugula, Fennel, and Orange Salad; and Ricotta Crostata.
Preserving Italy Dinner at the Fourth Estate: I’m teaming up again with Susan Delbert, Executive Chef at the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Restaurant, for a dinner on April 4. Chef Susan will be preparing a menu from my latest book, Preserving Italy. Rumor has it there will be porchetta!
Two spots have opened up for our Abruzzo Presto & Domenica Cooks Culinary Tour this September. Come explore this extraordinary region of mountains and medieval castles, of green hills and olive groves and the blue Adriatic ~ which also happens to be home to some of the best food in all of Italy. Dates are September 17-24. Feel free to contact me if you want to know more.
A classic Neapolitan example of "cucina povera," pasta e patate is high on my list of best Italian comfort foods. After all, carbs + more carbs = comfort. Paprika is not a common ingredient in Italian food, but I love it in this thick, rustic soup, where it imparts a smoky sweetness and a beautiful baked clay color.
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 bunch scallions (about 6), ends trimmed and white and green parts thinly sliced crosswise
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into thin rounds or bite-sized pieces
- 1 large rib celery, plus leaves, cut crosswise into thin slices
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 Yukon gold or other yellow-fleshed potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika, or more to taste
- Generous pinch of ground cayenne pepper
- 6 to 7 cups homemade or best-quality commercial chicken or vegetable broth, or water
- 1/2 cup best-quality canned tomatoes, smashed, or tomato puree
- 1 piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
- 1 1/2 cups soup pasta, such as mezze-maniche, medium shells, etc.
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Warm the olive oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot set over medium heat. Add the scallions, carrots, celery, and parsley, and saute, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables have begun to wilt. Reduce the heat to medium-low, if necessary, to prevent the scallions from scorching. Add the zucchini and potatoes, salt, smoked paprika, and cayenne and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the zucchini starts to soften. Stir in 3 cups of the broth, raise the heat to medium and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring once or twice, for about 5 minutes, until the broth is slightly reduced. Stir in the tomato puree and the Parmigiano rind and return the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover partially, and cook at a gentle but steady simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until the potatoes and carrots are tender.
Add 3 more cups broth, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring the soup once more to a boil. Stir in the pasta and cook, uncovered, until the pasta is al dente; the cooking time will vary depending on the shape of the pasta, the brand, and how thick the broth is. If the soup is too thick, or if you prefer it a little soupier, add some or all of the remaining broth while the pasta is cooking.
Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and smoked paprika, if you like. Let the soup sit for a minute or two before ladling it into bowls. Sprinkle each serving with a little more cheese.