(Copyright, Maria Liberati, 2006-2007)
When it comes to Italian culture, one cannot offer an accurate description without giving due attention to the plentiful dishes that are tied to the nation’s identity and shared with the rest of the world. However, the Italian menu that is practically synonymous with the nation itself has not always been. While it is difficult to imagine an Italy without its traditional food, such a place did at one time exist. By taking a look at some of the history of what we now consider “Italian food,” we are offered an often overlooked aspect of the beloved cuisine and an opportunity to appreciate it all the more.
An obvious starting point is the origin of pasta, the ultimate staple of Italian cooking. While other traditional Italian favorites such as tomato sauce and pizza have a fairly recent history, pasta has a much older heritage that can be traced back hundreds, and perhaps thousands of years.
A common myth surrounding the introduction of pasta to Italy is that the Venetian merchant, Marco Polo, returned from journeys in China with the dish, thereby introducing it to the nation. However, this belief has been debunked, as records clearly show that pasta was already in existence in Italy at this time. While several theories still exist, the more commonly accepted one today is tied to the Arab invasions of Italy in the 8th century. Pasta was first prepared in Italy in dried form in Sicily. Some Sicilian lasagna dishes today still contain such ingredients as raisins and cinnamon, also Arab contributions, which lends credence to the fact that pasta was indeed introduced by this group. The combination of Italy’s climate, which proved favorable for the harvesting of durum wheat, and the gradual introduction of newtechnology, which made pasta easier to make, allowed the dish to thrive.
Next week we will learn how the making of pasta was transformed from a labor intensive task to a much simpler undertaking through the innovations of several individuals who contributed their ideas and inventions.
BUCATINI WITH BROCOLETTI
1 lb of perciatelli or bucatini pasta
1 lb of brocoletti (broccoli rabe or you cn use regular broccoli)
2 garlic cloves
1 tblsp pignoli nuts
½ lb plum tomatoes
1 handful parsley
Grated pecorino cheese
5 tblsps of extra virgin olive oil
Salt, pepper to taste
Wash broccoletti and boil in lightly salted water. Take out of water when done, saving the cooking water. In a sauté pan place in the olive oil with finely chopped garlic and onion, and sauté for a couple of minutes. Then add in tomatoes cut into small pieces, pinoli and broccoletti, add pinch of pepper and salt and let cook for 15 minutes.
Boil the water that you used to cook broccoletti and let cook till al dente and drain, Place in pan with sauce and toss to lightly coat. Sprinkle in handful of grated pecorino cheese, toss lightly and serve.