The sun was setting coral pink and my stomach was full of perfect pasta on Procida. That evening, years ago, was one of the moments when I first realized how much I loved pasta. We had ferried over to the isle of Procida from Naples, eager to enjoy the Campanian countryside as a contrast to the espresso-intense energy of downtown Naples.
Procida, the bucolic isle where the film Il Postino was filmed, still maintained something of its slow, fisherman’s village attitude, and local culture. Nature is still intact in parts of the island, especially towards the southwest towards the Isola di VIvara. On Vivara, which we had hiked the day before, are well-known local populations of rabbits.
So, rabbit stew sauce over fettucine had to be our meal of choice at the village osteria that evening. We sipped our local Aglianico wine slowly, admiring the simple gold-painted walls and wood sideboards that had us feeling almost like we were dining in someone’s home. And when the pasta course arrived, I admit that I had never before seen a mound of noodles so golden, so poised in the center of the plate, so richly colored with a dense, red tomato sauce. Atop it all sat perfect, tuna-sized flecks of rabbit meat. With care I used just a single tine of my fork to disrupt the perfection of this nest of golden pasta, making sure that I took enough of the bits of meat and tomatoey bits to blend all the flavors in my mouth. Everything– the rich, creamy egg flavor, the acidity of the tomato, the rustic texture and slightly gamey flavor of the meat-seemed in perfect balance. And all of this was perfectly paired with the medium body and hint of tannicity of the Aglianico wine.
Two hours later, after the pasta, contorno and a small dessert of pastry had been finished over conversation and a bit more red wine, I watched that sunset in a state of calm happiness. The pasta, the setting, the island of Procida seemd to be all I needed in life at that moment. I felt that the pasta had had some magical or alchemical effect on me -pasta perfection.
Another state of pasta-induced bliss came in a most different setting: we were visiting Piemonte and had been invited to a small home-based osteria set amongst the vineyards of Dogliani. Everything was just right: we were guests of Mario Boschis, our dolcetto-maker friend and he had let us choose the wine for the lunch. Having never tried it before, we chose the Pecchenino Siri d’Jermu . Mario advised us that it was quite a different style of wine from his own dolcetto and that it would pair well with robust foods. Not wanting to start eating meat at least until dinner that day, I chose a meat-laden pasta dish: tagliolini al sugo d’arrosto. While seemingly simple, this sauce is richly flavored with the very ingredients that form the drippings for a roast. In fact, the origin of this pasta condiment is from the frugal Piedmontese household use of even the very pan drippings from a roast in order to stretch a precious protein into other meals. For that reason, the sauce includes meat bits, fresh herbs like rosemary, tiny specks of pancetta, undertones of garlic and roasted vegetables.
Our waiter placed a large mound of hand-formed, deep golden tagliolini deftly atop with pristine white tablecloth and immediately the aromas of pancetta and rosemary floated upward, as if I were about to cut into a slice of meat. The meaty, fatty flavor poised against the sweetness of the egg noodles was perfect, and nearly not outdone by the earthy intensity of Pecchenino’s superb dolcetto.
Now at RITROVO® we have a new sublime pasta: sauce-hugging pannocchie or “waves of grain“, a densely accordianed pasta first cooked up for us in September by Nicola DeLaurentiis’ mamma, Minguch. Fully as long a spaghetti noodle, but as wide and ridged as a riccioli or fusilli short pasta, the panocchie sit in a serving dish like filets of pasta. Or, they can be broken up into shorter pieces before cooking or at the last minute in order to make a regular pasta corta dish.
Recently we served them with two sauces: one a rich, green, pinenut-studded nettles pesto and the other our Radici of Tuscany Pasta Sauce with Sangiovese Red Wine. To eat this dense durum wheat pasta was to feel again the rays of Procida sunshine, the warm breeze of Campania, the crisp tablecloth of Dogliani.
Another pasta to love.