Behind almost every dish I make is a story. The dishes I like best have the most memorable stories behind them. Sometimes it's a long story, a chunk of someone's life. When I make meat ragu, I always think of my mom. I recount part of her life in each four-hour meat sauce. Those of our times cooking together, our weekly spaghetti and meat sauce dinners while growing up (and afterwards), and even the holiday dinners, when she would use her meat sauce with my nonna's ravioli.
Sometimes the dish tells a story of brief events all linked together through one dish. La Coda alla Vaccinara makes me think of the chef in Rome who told me how he makes it, and the GranTourismo competition I entered and won with that recipe and story. I think of Testaccio, my apartment there, and of Rome.
Either in my mind or aloud, I retell the story of the dish each time I make it. I relive those special events, and recall the friends and family who shared the meal with me. If I make a dish for you, know you will hear its story as we eat it.
In this dish I've made today, is a story of a day in Salento. I've shared much of the day with you in previous posts, the morning making pasta with Debora's Nonna Vata and the afternoon in the kitchen with Pina, Claudia and Ylenia.
While making the sagne ncannulate for this post, I remembered that day again. Meeting Nonna Vata, her lesson and advice, her saying "vai, vai, vai" (go, go, go) when I was doing things correctly. I thought of Pina, and the stories she had about the Salentino food. Each vegetable and spice had a story behind it that she told me as she added the ingredient to the pot. I remember the table at Cantine Menhir and all of us gathered around, the jokes, the conversation. Each time I make this dish, I'll repeat the story in my head, think of the people with which I shared the meal, and share the story with whomever is with me.
Through my previous posts, you know the stories behind the dish. Now, I share the recipe with you.
The pasta is a truly regional one, Pugliese. Food is still very regional in Italy, so much so that even many pasta shapes have their own regions. In the stores in Salento, I saw only sagne ncannulate, orecchiette and maccheroni (known as minchiareddhri in Pugliese dialect). There might have been spaghetti or penne somewhere, but it was hidden behind the many packages of these regional pasta shapes. The sauce, schiattariciati, which means squished, is easy to make and oh so good. Fresh tomatoes explode in a generous amount of olive oil. There's a little garlic and a lot of fresh basil. To finish, the regional cheese, cacioricotta, is tossed through the dish to add a creaminess to each strand of pasta.
Step by step instructions for making and rolling out this pasta are on my post: A Pasta Making Lesson with Nonna Vata. If you don't want to roll out the pasta by hand, you can use a pasta machine. Roll it out to the #5 level of thickness.
With Nonna Vata, we made sagne similar to the middle photo below, just thinner. I also saw sagne curved like a horseshoe. Either way, you should cut the strips to about 15 inches in length. The thinner sagne ncannulate are made with strips 1/4-inch in width (on the left in the photo below) and with the thicker ones, cut the strips 1/2-inch in width (on the right in the photo below).
Here are a few more notes on shaping the pasta:
It takes a lot of practice to get the motion down and a perfectly twirled sagne ncannulate like Nonna Vata's. (At first you'll get one side tightly twirled and the other loosely twirled.)
Let the pasta dry, at least 4 hours, before cooking.
For me, the thinner strips (1/4-inch wide) are harder to make more uniform than the thicker ones.
I still need to master Nonna Vata's way of shaping the sagne ncannulate. In the meantime, I found that it was easier to make a more uniform twirl if I rolled the pasta around my index finger, and then pulled the roll out on the board. From there, I created a tighter twirl by lightly rolling it on the board, with one hand over the top of the pasta and another holding an edge of the pasta.
Join me in Puglia in 2013! For this food lover's culinary tour, we'll be cooking with our beautiful Italian mamme and professional chefs and also eating and exploring our way through the region. There are four tour dates available from which to choose! For tour details, check out this page: Culinary Tours in Puglia 2013!
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Sagne Ncannulate con Pomodorini Schiattariciati
Serves 4 people
1 pound (450 grams) dried sagne ncannulate pasta (you can substitute spaghetti or linguine)
For making Sagne Ncannulate Pasta:
(adapted from my lesson with Nonna Vata)
1 pound (450 grams) durham wheat flour (semolina flour in the U.S.)
About 1/2 cup warm water
Note: The amount of water you will need varies by day and by area depending on the climate, and especially the humidity. I used 1/2 cup of water on a typically arid California day. In the summer in, say Texas, you will certainly need less water.
For the Schiattariciati Sauce:
(adapted from Pina's schiattariciati sauce)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, whole with the skins on
2 pounds (900 grams) cherry tomatoes, with stems removed
1 tablespoon kosher salt
20 to 25 basil leaves, plus more for garnish
About 3/4 cup grated cacioricotta cheese*
In a large sauce pot, bring about 8 cups of water to a rolling boil. Once the water has boiled add a generous amount of salt and let it come back to a boil.
In another deep sauce pot, add the olive oil and whole garlic. Over medium heat, heat the oil until it starts to bubble. Gently place the whole cherry tomatoes in the oil. Cover the saucepan with its lid and leave for 5 to 7 minutes, letting the tomatoes "explode" under the lid. Add the salt and basil leaves, and cover until you're ready to add the pasta.
Once the tomatoes have burst, put the pasta in the boiling water. If you're using home made sagne ncannulate, boil for 3 to 4 minutes (depending on the size of the pasta). Then place into the squished tomato sauce and combine. If you are using boxed pasta, cook only half the cooking time that are on the cooking instructions. (Because the pasta cooks in the sauce, it should be extremely al dente when you remove it from the water.) Off the heat add the grated cheese and toss until the cheese has coated all the pasta. Garnish with fresh basil. Serve.
*Cacioricotta is a Salento cheese that is a combination of cheese and ricotta. I'm still searching for an adequate substitute in case you can't find it in your area. (I tried ricotta salata, but it's not the right substitute.)