Before marrying your grandfather and going on our honeymoon in the South of Italy, in the Basilicata region, to visit my in-laws, Grandma told me, I had never heard of pasta and… pasta and potatoes, pasta and fava beans, pasta and beans… We used to eat pasta, soup or broth, but we had never had a pasta cooked that way!
This is what my grandmother told me when I asked her where she learnt to cook pasta e patate, pasta cooked with potatoes, one of the most comfortable dish you can think of in a cold winter day.
Pasta e patate is a traditional dish, belonging to the inventive food tradition of South Italy. My grandma Marcella learnt to cook pasta with potatoes from my Aunt Valeria, my granddad’s sister, and from that day of many many years ago she developed her own recipe, revised according to our ingredients, to her personal taste and cooking style.
For example, instead of caciocavallo, a hard and sharp flavoured pear shaped cheese from the South of Italy, we use grated Parmigiano Reggiano and also the leftover crusts of this cheese, cut into cubes. Once you boil them for a while, they become soft and chewy, giving an intense flavour to the broth.
From unknown recipe it became the rewarding and cosy dish of cold days. In these snowy days Grandma comes often to our house at lunch time with a wooden tray with all the ingredients, already measured and divided into small bowls, and while we set the table she cooks us for our pasta with potatoes in a small pot on low flame: this is her secret in the kitchen.
As befits the traditional Italian peasant cooking, few ingredients are used in an inventive way to produce a rich taste and a creamy texture, made even more enticing by the alternation of potatoes and pasta with cubes of chewy crusts of Parmesan. A hint of freshly ground black pepper or a pinch of crushed red hot chilly pepper will add the right amount of fire to warm you up, from inside out.
It is highly recommended to hold the bowl of pasta with potatoes in your hands on the coldest days and to inhale the cosy scent with closed eyes before you eat it: a stream of home and family memories will pass through your eyes. This is the power of simplicity.
Pasta e patate - Pasta with potatoes, a dish from the South of Italy
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 white onion, finely sliced
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 tbsp of tomato puree
- 600 ml (2 1/2 cups) of boiling salted water
- 100 g (3 1/2 oz) short pasta
- 50 g (1 3/4 oz) of crust of Parmesan cheese, cubed
- Red hot chilli pepper or freshly ground black pepper and grated Parmesan cheese to serve
- Pour the extra virgin olive oil in a medium sized pot and add the finely sliced onion. Cook the onion over low heat for a few minutes, stirring often, until golden.
- Add the diced potatoes and a spoon of tomato sauce, which will give a pinkish and inviting colour to the pasta and potatoes. Stir to mix all the flavour, then cover with hot salted water.
- Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, then add the short pasta and the crust of Parmesan cheese and cook for 10 up to 15 minutes, until the pasta is cooked. Stir often once you add the Parmesan crust because the cheese will tend to stick to the bottom of the pan.
- When the pasta and the potatoes are cooked through and the cooking liquid has been almost completely absorbed, leaving a thick and creamy soup, remove the pot from the heat and serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and a pinch of black pepper or dried chili.