Italian is among the easiest and cheapest things to eat

Italian is among the easiest and cheapest things to eat
                        

To think Italian cuisine was thought of as “exotic” not so very long ago is an eye blinker. Just about everybody cooks some kind of Italian dish, even if its authenticity is a question mark.

Grocery suppliers have made it among the easiest and cheapest things to eat, and many a college senior and newlywed couple make a fairly steady diet of boxed spaghetti and warmed-up sauce from a jar, sometimes venturing into frozen ravioli and warmed-up sauce from a jar.

Italian food is so much more than plain tomato sauce, of course. It’s vegetables, for sure, and nuts and cheeses and cream, seafood, grains, and a variety of oils.

Traveling from the toe of the boot to the knee is to pass through multiples of the culinary universe, a sort of string theory of food in which the capers front and center in Palermo also can occupy the same form in a different space in Pesaro and Genoa, all at the same moment.

And there’s an awful lot of spillover. The ancients said all roads lead to Rome, and that has proved true in war, religion and trade, though not anymore; it is still true of food.

Italy stamps the visas of nearly every cuisine from Bangkok to Sydney. It most certainly is writ large over all of the meals served in the U.S. daily. It is impossible to imagine eating in our country without Italian food somewhere near the center of every banquet or any town with more than 5,000 souls without an Italian eatery.

All this mooning about Italians comes from a dish that always has me happily moaning every time I have it. I want to suggest it as something ridiculously easy and a much more flavorful alternative to jarred sauce. Yes, I know I said Italian cuisine is far more than tomato sauce, and tomato sauce is what I’m giving you. But listen: baby steps. This sauce is a gateway drug, hopefully, to reading and eating your way from toe to knee. There are lots of great Italian cookbooks out there.

Pasta Puttanesca is so hugely packed with flavor and feels so genuinely Italian that it should be on a weekly rotation. It’s also easy and cheap to make, and if you buy a jar of sauce after trying it, then I’m scratching you off my Christmas Card list.

I’ll leave you to google the translation for Puttanesca. Generally speaking, it means “disreputable,” and it came about when hungry diners asked for food when there wasn’t much on hand.

My wife won’t allow dried pasta in the house anymore, thankfully, so we always have it with fresh-made stuff. Feel free to serve over any macaroni iteration you please, but I think a nice, heavy spaghetti is nice. Angel hair won’t do.

PASTA PUTTANESCA

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons capers, drained and chopped

2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Anchovy filets, in oil, drained and chopped. I use the whole can; adjust as you like.

8 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup black oil cured olives, pitted and chopped (the little shriveled ones)

1 24-ounce can plum tomatoes, whole

1 pound pasta, cooked

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet or dutch oven. Add the capers and fry until they start to crisp up. They’ll pop and protest as they cook so take care. Add the pepper flakes and cook a moment, then the anchovies, garlic and olives, stirring things around often.

Finally, add the tomatoes and their juice. Bring to a simmer and cook until the tomatoes begin to soften. Use a potato masher to squish them up but not too much. This sauce should be rough and chunky. Once it has cooked down a bit to your liking, serve over the pasta with shaved Parmesan or Asiago cheese.


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