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John Palcewski's Journal

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Subtle and Unique

I’m loving my extended visit to the woods of the American heartland (with frequent day trips to New York City!). While here writing a book I think about my permanent home in Ischia, an exceedingly beautiful island in the bay of Naples.

Now it’s easy to enhance these memories by the simple act of making spaghetti. Al dente, of course. Its sauce has to be made only of canned Neapolitan tomatoes, which New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne once said are superior even to freshly grown ones here. He’s absolutely right. Their taste is subtle and unique, the result of being grown in the rich volcanic soil surrounding Vesuvius. Another unique flavor is that of authentic Parmigiano Reggiano. (Look for the imprint of Reggiano stenciled on the rind. If it’s not there, forget it!)

The essence of Italian cooking is twofold: freshness of ingredients, and simplicity. So dump the 28 oz. can into a heavy saucepan. Add four or five tablespoons of either extra virgin olive oil, or butter. Also a medium cooking onion, peeled and halved.

Cook uncovered at a low simmer—NOT boiling—for about an hour. Discard the onion. Pour over a heap of steaming spaghetti. Liberally grate the parmigiano. Serve with a thick slice of fresh bread toasted with garlic and butter.

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Thank you for these simple cooking tips. I never knew that one should simmer sauce with half an onion for an hour.

Are there any recipes from your island you can recommend that don't require tomatoes? I love them, but right now I'm advised to stay away from them as they irritate my stomach.

Here's a simple--but delicious--Alfredo sauce, best used on either thin spaghetti or fettuccine. One cup heavy whipping cream, 2 tablespoons butter, 2/3rd cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano, salt, ground black pepper, and a sparse grating of nutmeg. Slowly heat until everything is combined and melted, and toss in the hot al dente pasta, stir until fully coated. When it's on the plate grate on more parmigiano.

Edited at 2008-12-25 11:42 am (UTC)

San Marzano is the penultimate 'Roma' tomato...I don't doubt that even the canned ones are considered superior to what most of us grow.

Not enough summer heat in Seattle for them to do awesomely well, but the few we get are worth it.

It always pays to shop around, find the best stuff when it's in season.

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