|Pasta Puttanesca Pugliese|
|Summer in the Okanagan Valley|
As the story goes from the book The Italian Country Table a farmer from the Puglian region made a once-in-a-lifetime trip across the Italian peninsula to Naples. There he tasted the infamous cooked tomato sauce Naples' Puttanesca "Pasta of the Streetwalker." He returned home with tales of his travels haunted by this dish but probably not relating the entire truth about where he had the opportunity to try it. To make it her own his wife could not resist adding the Puglian touch of wild arugula to this seasonal dish. It's an exemplary example of how pungent ingredients like olives, capers, raw onion, and chilies can marry so well to bring out the nuances of the tomato's complicated flavours.
Puglia is comprised of sun-bleached landscapes, silver olive groves, picturesque seascapes, and memorable hilltop and coastal towns. It is a lush, largely flat farming region, skirted by a long coast that alternates between glittering limestone precipices and long sandy beaches. The heel of Italy juts into the Adriatic and Ionian Seas and the waters of both are stunningly beautiful, veering between translucent emerald-green and dusky powder blue.
In a land where the cuisine is all-important, Puglia's cucina povera (peasant cooking) is legendary. Olive oil, grapes, tomatoes, eggplants, artichokes, peppers, salami, mushrooms, olives and fresh seafood strain its tables. Although boasting some of Italy's best food and wines, in some places it's rare to hear a foreign voice. But in July and August Puglia becomes party central, with sagre (festivals, usually involving food), concerts and events, and thousands of Italian tourists heading down here for their annual break.
I dream of one day visiting Puglia where wild arugula (also called wall rocket) grows in wild abandon. It has small, fleshy, peppery leaves that taste clean and sharp, quite different from the more familiar cultivated arugula, which can become medicinal and bitter when it's too mature. For this summer dish you can certainly substitute baby arugula or the inner leaves of curly endive or mesclun for an armchair journey to Italy through your tastebuds.
Instead of anchovies, which I did not have at the time, I added a half tablespoon of rinsed and drained capers for that slight saltiness reminiscent of the original dish from historical Naples. In the recipe it is also interesting to note how a little tomato paste deepens the character of an uncooked sauce. Vibrant and spicy, this is Puglia's uncooked version of puttanesca.
**Pasta Puttanesca Pugliese**
based on a recipe from The Italian Country Table, by Lynne Rossetto Kasper.
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 tightly packed tablespoon fresh basil leaves
1 tightly packed teaspoon each fresh marjoram and Italian parsley leaves
1 clove garlic
Generous pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 oil-packed anchovy fillets, rinsed (optional) or 1/2 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup Puglia, Liguria, or Nicoise black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
About 3 pounds richly flavoured tomatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 cup crumbled Pecorino Ricotta Salata from Puglia, Cacio Romano, ricotta salata from Sicily, or domestic Vella Dry Jack or Stella Fontinella
2 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
3/4 pound orecchiette pasta (or pasta of your choice)
6 quarts boiling salted water
1/3 tightly packed cup wild arugula (wall rocket), or young arugula, mesclun, or tender curly endive leaves, chopped
Mince together the herbs, garlic, and hot pepper with the salt. Turn into a big serving bowl. Add the onion, anchovies (or capers), olives, tomatoes, vinegar, cheese, and oil and blend in the tomato paste. Taste for seasoning, adding a little freshly ground black pepper if needed.
Cook the pasta in fiercely boiling water, stirring often, until there is no raw flour taste. Orecchiette cook to a chewier consistency than most pastas. Drain in a colander.
Put the pasta pot back over medium-high heat. Spoon most of the sauce's liquid into the pot. Stir in the drained pasta and cook a few minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed. Turn the pasta into the sauce and add the arugula. Taste for seasoning, toss, and serve.
Serves 6 to 8 as a first course, 4 to 6 as a main dish
Cook to Cook: The sauce can wait several hours, lightly covered, at room temperature. Do not refrigerate it.
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