North-south di­vine

From shapes to sauces and how to com­bine them, few plate­fuls are as re­gion­ally par­tic­u­lar as pasta. Here Vene­tian na­tive Va­le­ria Nec­chio in­tro­duces us to the typ­i­cal dishes from four cor­ners of Italy

The Guardian - Cook - - Four Regions - Va­le­ria Nec­chio is a food writer and the au­thor of Veneto (Faber); @va­le­ri­anec­chio

That Ital­ians love their pasta is no news. Few things unite the coun­try like a daily bowl­ful of spaghetti, and few dishes are so so­cially and ge­o­graph­i­cally per­va­sive, and as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Ital­ian food cul­ture, as pasta. And yet, as of­ten hap­pens, re­gional dif­fer­ences are strong and vi­brantly alive. Vari­a­tions arise not just from north to south but also from town to town, from kitchen to kitchen, ei­ther in the com­po­si­tion of the dough or, even more, in the sauce dress­ing the noo­dles.

Shapes aside, the main dis­tinc­tion in the realm of pasta oc­curs be­tween fresh and dried. A gen­eral mis­con­cep­tion has led peo­ple to be­lieve that fresh pasta is su­pe­rior to dried, when in fact the two are very dif­fer­ent mat­ters. Dried pasta, made with du­rum wheat and wa­ter – first pro­duced in the area around Grag­nano in Cam­pa­nia, and now con­sumed all over Italy – can be just as ex­cel­lent. Look out for phrases such as trafi­lata al bronzo (bronze-die) and pura semola di grano duro (pure du­rum wheat semolina) as signs of su­pe­rior qual­ity.

An­other, per­haps more fas­ci­nat­ing dis­tinc­tion oc­curs be­tween fresh egg-based and wa­ter-and flour-based pasta. Tra­di­tion­ally, pasta made with plain wheat flour hy­drated with eggs is com­mon in north­ern re­gions such as Pied­mont, Lom­bardy, Veneto and Emilia Ro­magna. In con­trast, char­ac­ter­is­tic fresh pasta shapes made with just wa­ter and flour can be found in Lig­uria, Tus­cany, Um­bria, Basil­i­cata and Puglia (think of Tus­can pici or orec­chi­ette from Puglia).

Things get con­vo­luted when all these shapes and types be­come ve­hi­cles for sauces. Ital­ians tend to be strict about their food pair­ings, match­ing only cer­tain shapes and sauces. And so, ragù alla bolog­nese is only la­dled on to por­ous rib­bons of egg pasta (such as tagli­atelle), while clams are tossed with spaghetti or lin­guine but never penne. I could go on.

We have se­lected four pasta dishes – two from the north and two from the south – that rep­re­sent well what hap­pens across the coun­try when the clock strikes noon. From the north comes fet­tuc­cine with sausage, mush­room and olives – of­ten re­ferred to as boscaiola. Closer to the sea comes the very Vene­tian salsa of an­chovies and onions, tossed with the lo­cal pasta shape, bì­goli. Mov­ing down the coast, there comes the clas­sic spaghetti con le von­gole, with clams. And, fi­nally, from Si­cily hails the glo­ri­ous pasta alla norma, a sauce fea­tur­ing a key in­gre­di­ent of southern-Ital­ian cui­sine: fried aubergine.

Veneto 9 Bì­goli with an­chovies and onions

Of Jew­ish ori­gin, this has be­come a clas­sic Vene­tian dish that is typ­i­cally con­sumed on fast­ing (meat­less) days. Veneto: Recipes from an Ital­ian Coun­try Kitchen by Va­le­ria Nec­chio (Guardian Faber)

Serves 4

100g oil-packed an­chovy fil­lets, drained (or 8 large salted sar­dines)

80ml ex­tra vir­gin olive oil

2 onions (about 400g), thinly sliced 80ml hot wa­ter

400g dry whole­meal bì­goli (or thick spaghetti or ver­mi­celli)

A pinch of ground cin­na­mon (op­tional) Salt and black pep­per, to taste

1 If us­ing sar­dines, wash them thor­oughly un­der cold run­ning wa­ter to get rid of the salt. Pat dry and re­move the bones. Set aside.

2 Heat the oil in a large fry­ing pan over a low heat. Add the sliced onions and fry gently un­til very soft

and translu­cent – about 10 min­utes – stir­ring fre­quently to pre­vent brown­ing. Pour over the hot wa­ter and carry on cook­ing over a low heat un­til fallen apart – about 30 min­utes.

3 Next, add the an­chovy fil­lets (or sar­dines) and dis­solve them into the onion sauce us­ing a wooden spoon. Cook for 5–8 more min­utes, un­til the sauce looks very creamy — the onions and an­chovies should be min­gled in a brown­ish, oily mix­ture. Re­move from the heat and cover to keep warm.

4 Bring a large pan of wa­ter to a rolling boil. Salt the wa­ter and, as soon as it starts boil­ing again, add the bì­goli. Cook the pasta un­til just al dente, re­serv­ing a glass of cook­ing wa­ter for the sauce. Drain and trans­fer to the pan with the sauce and set over a medi­umhigh heat. Toss, adding splashes of cook­ing wa­ter to help the sauce come to­gether and coat the pasta. Fin­ish with a cou­ple of turns of the pep­per grinder and a pinch of cin­na­mon, if you like. Toss once more then serve.

Marche 10 Fet­tuc­cine with sausage, mush­room and green olive sauce

In this dish from the east­ern town of As­coli Pi­ceno, the sauce is used to dress home­made fet­tuc­cine, but fresh bought tagli­atelle is a good sub­sti­tute. Clas­sic Food of North­ern Italy by Anna Del Conte (Pav­il­ion)

Serves 4

Fresh fet­tuc­cine (or 300g dried egg tagli­atelle)

20g dried porcini mush­rooms

225g coarse-grained pure pork sausage

1 tbsp olive oil

60g un­salted but­ter

90g brown mush­rooms, thinly sliced

Salt and black pep­per

2 tbsp chopped pars­ley

1 tsp zest from an un­waxed lemon

1 gar­lic clove, very finely chopped

12-18 large green olives, pit­ted and cut into strips

2 tbsp ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil

1 If you are making your own pasta, do this first. Cover the porcini with boil­ing wa­ter and soak for an hour. Drain, rinse un­der cold wa­ter and dry them. Chop them coarsely and set aside.

2 Cut the sausage into thin rounds and put in a fry­ing pan with the oil. Fry for 10 min­utes, stir­ring fre­quently.

3 Mean­while, in an­other fry­ing pan large enough to hold the cooked pasta later, sauté the mush­rooms and porcini in the but­ter for 5 min­utes over a lively heat. Sea­son with salt and pep­per and stir in the pars­ley, lemon rind and gar­lic. Cook for 1-2 min­utes and then add the sausage. Turn the heat down and con­tinue cook­ing for a fur­ther 5 min­utes, stir­ring fre­quently.

4 Add the olives and cook for 1 minute. Taste and check the sea­son­ing. Mean­while, cook the fet­tuc­cine in plenty of salted boil­ing wa­ter.

5 Drain the pasta, but re­serve a cup­ful of the pasta wa­ter. Turn the pasta into the large fry­ing pan and pour over the ex­tra vir­gin olive oil and about 2 tbsp of the pasta wa­ter. Cook for 1 minute, toss­ing con­stantly.

6 Serve im­me­di­ately from the pan.

Few things unite Italy like a daily bowl­ful of spaghetti, yet re­gional dif­fer­ences are strong and vi­brant

Cam­pa­nia 11 Spaghetti with clams

There used to be a restau­rant at the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in New York called Sette MoMA that over­looked the peace­ful oa­sis of the sculp­ture gar­den. I would of­ten go there to write. With­out fail, I would have this dish. I loved the way they pre­pared it: with a touch of fresh tomato and peper­oncini (chill­ies).

The Tucci Ta­ble by Stan­ley Tucci (Orion)

Serves 4

1kg fresh clams

1 tbsp corn­meal

450g spaghetti

About 8 tbsp ex­tra vir­gin olive oil 3 gar­lic cloves, cut into sliv­ers

2 to 4 small dried Ital­ian peper­oncini Salt and black pep­per

1 large hand­ful fresh flat-leaf pars­ley, chopped, plus more for serv­ing

1 First, clean the clams, dis­card­ing any with bro­ken shells or that won’t close when you tap them. Put them in a large bowl of cold wa­ter with the corn­meal for about half an hour. Then drain and rinse to wash away any grit or sand.

2 Bring a large pot of salted wa­ter to a boil. Cook the spaghetti ac­cord­ing to the in­struc­tions on the pack­age.

3 Mean­while, in a heavy-bot­tomed sauté pan, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the gar­lic and the peper­oncini, and cook un­til the gar­lic is fra­grant but not coloured. Raise the heat to medium and add the clams, shak­ing the pan and stir­ring to coat them in the oil and gar­lic.

4 Add a good amount of salt and ground pep­per. Add the pars­ley and toss to coat the clams once more. Put the lid on. Cover and cook, shak­ing the pan ev­ery so of­ten un­til the clams are open and cooked – about 3 min­utes. Dis­card any that don’t open.

5 When the pasta and the clams are done, drain the spaghetti and add it to the clams, toss­ing the pan. Gar­nish with a little ex­tra chopped fresh pars­ley and serve at once.

Si­cily 12 Pasta with aubergine

This recipe looks undis­tin­guished on pa­per, but when the in­gre­di­ents are at their best, their flavours com­bine into a truly sub­lime pasta dish.

Si­cil­ian Sum­mer: An Ad­ven­ture in Cook­ing with My Grand­sons by Mary Tay­lor Simeti (Sil­ver­wood)

Serves 6

2 medium aubergines

Salt and black pep­per

At least 300ml olive oil

2 gar­lic cloves

720ml (about 3 small mug­fuls) very ripe to­ma­toes, peeled and chopped, or 580ml tomato sauce

675g spaghetti or penne

About 235g salted ri­cotta, grated A large hand­ful of fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped

1 Wash the aubergines and cut them, un­peeled, into 5mm slices (Palermo style) or into fin­ger-size sticks (more com­mon in the east). Sprin­kle with abun­dant salt and al­low them to dry for a cou­ple of hours. Rinse them well of the salt, drain, pat dry, and then fry the aubergines in lots of olive oil un­til golden brown on all sides. Drain on kitchen pa­per.

2 Saute the gar­lic cloves and the to­ma­toes to­gether with very little salt and the pep­per, in about 5 tbsp oil for about 15 min­utes.

3 Cook the pasta in abun­dant boil­ing salted wa­ter un­til al dente, then drain. Toss it in a serv­ing bowl with half the ri­cotta on top and sprin­kle with the rest of the ri­cotta.

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