Meet the Neapolitan queen: pasta e patate! I realise I haven’t shared many pasta recipes since I started blogging. Partly it is a coincidence and partly it is my determination to show that Italian food is not just pasta and pizza (as still far too many people I talk to seem to believe…): there is so much more to it. So I decided to start with an unknown
and possibly controversial one, that will warm you up nicely on these cold winter days.
Now. I would like to meet any Neapolitan or any foreigner who spent some time in Napoli who is not accustomed and addicted to pasta e patate. Yes, it is THAT popular!
“Pasta e patate?” I hear you cry, as often happens when I mention this dish to British friends. “But this is a carb explosion!” Nope, I reply: this is a burst of delight!
I was talking to my colleague Ffion the other day and her immediate response was the same. I think it is a jerk reaction… But then she reminded me that people have a potato curry with naan bread – not to mention lasagne served with garlic bread. So it is a matter of perception.
Still scared? And, to be fair, pasta e patate could easily be considered a soup, which is how many see this dish anyway.
Back to the recipe. There are many Neapolitan dishes that belong to a poor and humble tradition. Dishes that people living in the most challenging conditions used to rely on to have a nutritious diet. Pasta e patate dates back to the XVIIth century, when it first appeared in Napoli. It is a simple dish that uses basic ingredients, including parmesan crusts! (You can tell how people used to make the most of anything they had. No waste allowed…)
Pasta e patate belongs to the category I call “le mitiche” (the legends), which also includes: pasta e piselli, pasta e cavolfiore, pasta e lenticchie, pasta e ceci, pasta e cocozza, er, zucca, and pasta e fagioli). In short, pasta-based dishes with something that is meant to be really good for you (peas, cauliflower, lentils, chickpeas, pumpkin, beans).
Over the past years more versions have developed, but as always I will share the one my nonna Cristina used to make when I would stay with her on occasions.
- 500g potatoes
- 350g pasta (mixed or spaghetti chopped roughly)
- 1 celery stick
- 1 big shallot
- 100g cherry tomatoes, halved
- 5 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 parmesan crust (the tough rind left at the end of a block)
- About 1.1l of boiling water
- 40g grated parmesan
- Bunch of basil leaves
Scrape off the outermost surface of the parmesan crust and soak in lukewarm water for at least 30 minutes. When ready, dry, chop into several smaller pieces and set aside.
Wash, peel and chop the potatoes in small cubes. Set aside.
Meanwhile, chop the onions and celery finely. Use a mixer if necessary.
In a deep saucepan add the oil, onions and celery. Add a pinch of salt. Cook slowly on low-medium heat until they soften. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for a minute until they start to soften.
Add the parmesan crusts, stir and let them cook for a few seconds. (these will add plenty of flavour and you could eat them, too!)
Add the potatoes and 500ml of boiling water, or enough to cover the potatoes. Bring to the boil by increasing the heat, then lower it and let it simmer for about 40 minutes, until the potatoes start acquiring a soft consistency. During this time stir occasionally to make sure the potatoes are not sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Stir, and crush the potatoes a bit with a wooden spoon.
Add 600ml of hot water and bring back to the boil. Add the pasta and a pinch of salt (a bit at a time, so you can decide when it is enough).
Mix the pasta well with the rest of the contents of the pan. You need to keep tasting to understand how much more seasoning is required – but better too little than too much.
Cook on high-medium heat for the pasta’s suggested cooking time, stirring occasionally and adding water as required, when and if it gets too dry.
The dish is ready when the pasta is cooked al dente and the potatoes are creamy but retain some texture. Add some grated parmesan and pepper and cook on low heat until the parmesan is well incorporated.
Before serving sprinkle some more parmesan. Enjoy hot. Or at room temperature!
I love this dish so much that when there are leftovers, I will happily have it the next day at room temperature. I know, it sounds crazy, BUT remember… de gustibus!
What can I possibly say? Potatoes and pasta: the best of both worlds. It is meant to be!