Arthur Schwartz spoke with Leonard Lopate on November 13. Click here to listen to the conversation.
Maccheroni con Zucchine e Ricotta
(Macaroni with Zucchini and Ricotta)
I learned this dish from Gerardina Costanza, one of Cecilia’s amazing cooks and one of the women who assist me in my Cook at Seliano classes. This is a dish of few ingredients and very much about technique. The zucchini is cut two ways, into batons and finely chopped in a food processor. I especially like this sauce on elicone, “helicopters,” whose large spirals catch the zucchini strips like no other pasta does.
4 medium zucchini (about 11⁄2 pounds)
1 small onion
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄4 cup finely shredded flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound large macaroni, such as elicone, paccheri, or rigatoni
1 cup ricotta, at room temperature
Grated Parmigiano or pecorino cheese
Cut 3 of the zucchini into fine strips, about 3 inches long by ¼ inch. Chop the fourth very finely in a food processor. Slice the onion in half from root to stem end, then cut into fine strips in the same direction.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the zucchini strips until a few are just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and fry another 3 or 4 minutes, until the onion is wilted but still a little bit crunchy.
Add the grated zucchini and toss well with the already fried vegetables. Toss in the parsley. Fry only 1 minute, seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer the vegetables to a large serving bowl. Cook the pasta in at least 4 quarts of boiling water with 2 tablespoons of salt. Drain well and pour the pasta into the bowl with the vegetables. Add the ricotta and toss well.
Serve immediately, passing grated cheese at the table.
Caponata Napoletana o Acquasale
(Bread and Tomato Salad)
In Naples and Salerno, acquasale, although it means “saltwater,” refers to a bread and tomato salad made with pane biscottato (see page 35). This “twice-baked” bread is dipped briefly into saltwater to soften it—hence the name. The name caponata refers to the bread itself, capone being the rusks that fishermen used to dip in the sea to make them manageable to eat. Although tomatoes are the essential base topping for the bread, almost any other ingredient can be added. Fish and seafood are traditional because of caponata’s fisherman origins, and in the late eighteenth century, aristocrats took the dish to Rococo heights, making huge set pieces for banquets of piles of bread and expensive seafood and vegetables. Pane biscottato is made in some Italian-American bakeries, often in a ring shape called freselle, which is the shape preferred for a layered as opposed to tossed salad. In fact, in Calabria, this salad is often called insalata freselle. Both pane biscottato and freselle are also imported from Italy, available packed in bags and boxes in Italian specialty markets. I much prefer the whole wheat (integrale) to the white.
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
4 to 6 whole-grain freselle or pane biscottato or oven-dried whole-grain country-style bread
1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
1 recipe Tomato Salad (page 56), the tomatoes sliced or diced fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley leaves, torn or shredded
In a medium bowl, make a saltwater bath by dissolving the salt in the water. Dip the pane biscottato or freselle very briefly—just a few seconds—into the salted water, to soften just the surface. The bread will continue to soften as it stands. In addition, you will be adding moisture with vinegar, and you will be topping it with juicy tomatoes. It should not end up mushy.
Depending on whether you are making a composed salad or a tossed one, either arrange the freselle or dried bread slices on a platter or break them up into approximately 1½- to 2-inch chunks and place them in a serving bowl. Sprinkle the vinegar over the bread. If using sliced tomatoes, arrange them over the whole bread on the platter, then pour on their juices and oil. For a tossed salad, put the tomato salad in the bowl with the broken bread. Garnish or toss well with some additional fresh basil or parsley leaves.
NOTE: Once refrigerated, the salad loses its appeal, although you may still find it quite acceptable. It can, however, be turned into a delicious version of pancotto (see Variation, page 74), “cooked bread”; a minestra, which should be served hot with extra-virgin olive oil drizzled over the top; or better yet with olio santo (see page 73). Put the soggy salad into a saucepan and place it over medium heat. With a wooden spoon, beat the mixture, adding a little water as necessary, to form a thick gruel. It should not be perfectly smooth—rather, more like the consistency of oatmeal. Serve very hot.
Crumble 1 can of solid light tuna in olive oil, drained, onto or into the salad. And/or add a handful of Gaeta or other olives, as much as a heaping tablespoon of rinsed salted capers, and/or a few anchovy fillets. Sweet or hot pickled red peppers, cut into strips, are a good addition or garnish, as is pickled eggplant, marinated mushrooms, or artichoke hearts.
(Baked Tomato Sauce)
Serves: 3 or 4
At Azienda Seliano, Baronessa Cecilia’s agriturismo, the staff often makes tomato sauce this way—just pouring everything into a roasting pan and putting it in the oven. It is a great method when you have a vast number of people to feed, as they often do—you don’t have to mind a pot on top of the stove. And the flavor, what with capers, fresh basil, parsley, and dried oregano, is deep and complex. Canned cherry tomatoes, which are now available in some American specialty markets, are the perfect product to use in this sauce, but canned plum tomatoes work well, too. If you use fresh cherry tomatoes that have been cut in half, they won’t exude much juice, but they still make a good pasta dressing, as well as a vegetable antipasto or a side dish.
1 (28-ounce) can of peeled Italian plum tomatoes; or 2 (15-ounce) cans pomodorini collini, Italian cherry tomatoes; or 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, each cut in half or quarters, depending on size; or 1 pound small round, salad-type tomatoes, each cut into quarters or wedges
1⁄4 cup loosely packed fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley
1 rounded tablespoon salted capers, well rinsed
1 or 2 garlic cloves
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
3⁄4 to 1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs
Put a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Put the tomatoes in a shallow baking dish—a 10-inch round pie plate is perfect. If using canned plum tomatoes, drain each one by cutting it in half over the can, then cut it into large pieces directly into the baking dish. The tomatoes should not be totally dry, but the juices should not come more than about halfway up the tomatoes. If using canned cherry tomatoes, use the entire contents of the can, including the juice.
Place the basil or parsley, capers, and garlic on a cutting board and finely chop them together. Season the tomatoes with salt, then add the chopped mixture, sprinkle with oregano, then drizzle with oil. Toss well to mix. Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the top. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the tomatoes are bubbling and the bread crumbs have lightly browned. The crumbs will not be very crunchy. Rather, they thicken the sauce.
Serve immediately, tossing with any pasta or as a topping for bruschetta. If using fresh cherry tomatoes or salad tomatoes, it’s a good side dish, served hot or at room temperature.