Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Not Cucina Povera

Pasta with artichokes, garlic and celery    

Cucina Povera in its literal translation means "kitchen of the poor" or "simple kitchen".  For me, this means when I have not been to the market, have very few ingredients on hand, but I am hungry and would rather cook than order take out.  These dishes are simple but please don't mistake simple for lacking in flavor.  Upon return from a trip yesterday, I was very hungry and needed to prepare something for my daughter and myself.  In my refrigerator, I had a few stalks of celery which still had some crunch left (barely) and grated Romano cheese.  In the cabinet, I had a can (don't gasp) of quartered artichoke hearts which I find to be a lovely ingredient when time is an issue.  Do I prefer freshly cooked artichokes?  Yes!  But sometimes I am tired and/or lazy and that tin can provides me with my artichoke fix for a Bruschetta or pasta or Frittata.  I also had plenty of fresh garlic and two packages of small amounts of pasta, one Linguini and one Spaghetti.  Often, I only use a half of a box of pasta, and the other half languishes, lonely in the dark for sometimes months.  Somehow, the next time I prepare pasta,  I want another shape or I need the entire box, so I am always giddy when I finally get to use the remaining contents of those boxes.  Normally, I would never mix pasta shapes, but since this was only the two of us, no one was reporting to the Pasta Polizia,  and I was really feeling the "Cucina Povera" vibe,  I threw caution to the wind and combined the two pastas.  The key to a simple dish like this is to pay attention to every step of the cooking process, since there are so few ingredients and make sure your pasta is cooked in abundantly salted water.  An elderly Tuscan woman who first taught me to cook pasta years ago said "the water for the pasta should taste like the sea".  I always hear her voice echoing in my head while preparing pasta!  It makes sense, since salt brings out the flavor in food and the dried pasta soaks up the cooking water.... 

simple ingredients    

Pasta w/ Artichokes, Garlic and Celery

  • 1/2 LB dried Spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 can drained, quartered artichoke hearts, dried with a paper towel
  • 3 stalks of celery, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • salt and fresh black pepper 
  • 1/2 cup of Pecorino Romano Cheese, grated
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a rolling boil for the pasta.  In the meantime, start the pasta sauce.
In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil on medium high and when hot add the artichoke hearts and lots of fresh pepper, be very generous with the pepper grinder.  Allow them to sizzle and brown, stirring often so that they do not burn.  Add half of the fresh garlic and lower the heat to medium, stirring.  Add the celery and the remaining garlic and sauté everything together until the celery looks translucent and starts to soften, for about 5 minutes. 
sauté of artichoke, garlic, celery and pepper
When the pasta water is boiling, add several tablespoons of salt and the pasta.

boiling pasta in "sea" water

 Add a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water to the pan with the vegetables, to add moisture and blend the flavors together, 3 or 4 spoons should do it. 
When the pasta is about 2 minutes shy of being properly cooked, add the pasta directly to the sauté pan from the boiling water and toss it all together to finish cooking in the sauce.  Add another 1/2 - 3/4 cup of the pasta cooking water to the pan and stir and toss it all together, the starch in the pasta water will help to thicken and bring the flavors together.  Add salt and more pepper to taste.

tossing the pasta with the sauce               

At this point, when the pasta is cooked, sprinkle the cheese to taste over the pasta and continue tossing to blend.  Serve immediately with extra cheese as a garnish.  The flavors of each ingredient in the dish are discernible yet perfectly blended and fantastic.  So simple yet so flavorful, don't be fooled by the pale colors, this recipe will serve 2. 
I reminded myself how very rich I am, while sitting alfresco and devouring this delizioso pasta with my daughter on a balmy Spring evening. 
I highly recommend a glass of good Italian red with this dish.  My bottle of last night is pictured below,  Buon Appetitio

Rustic red from the Alps for the simple dish


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