Medieval Italian Pasta

Buccini’s talk focused on debunking the ‘myth of the Arab diffusion of pasta,’ and he argued that Genoa may have been a more logical origin for the diffusion of pasta, although there was plenty of pasta found in Arab-influenced Italy. It therefore seems appropriate to showcase two recipes that we served, reflecting different regional influences. This first recipe suggests what pasta may have been like in medieval Sicily and Southern Italy, well before the introduction of the tomato into the Old World. The recipe is close to that one memorialized by the Roman poet, Horace, who hailed from Basilicata; he wrote of a broad noodle pottage flavored with chickpeas, leeks, and olive oil, and it seems plausible that similar dishes were enjoyed in the southern Italic peninsula one thousand years later.

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Laganelle e ceci

Buccini PastaLagane are broad, thin noodles made from fine semolina with water (not egg, as this is a Southern Italian dish) and a pinch of salt. Simply knead together, using the amount of water necessary to make a workable dough. Let the dough rest for about 30 minutes, covered with a cloth, before rolling thinly and cutting into wide noodles or handkerchief shapes. Alternatively, fresh, store-bought pasta can be used, although it will probably be a bit thicker.

Serving 4-5 as a main course:

  • 1/2 lb dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water with a bit of bicarbonate of soda, and drained
  • 1 leek, cleaned and chopped
  • 1-2 stalks celery, with leaves, cleaned and chopped
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1 lb fresh pasta
  • 1/2 cup washed, dried, and coarsely chopped parsley
  • extra-virgin olive oil, to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper and salt, to taste

Directions:

  1. Combine the chickpeas, leek, celery and bay leaves in a pot and cover with water by two inches. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until tender, skimming any scum that rises to the surface.
  2. Once the chickpeas are tender, remove the bay leaves and about 1 cup of the chickpeas. Mash the peas and return them to the pot to thicken the liquid.
  3. Cook the pasta until tender and combine with the chickpeas. Stir in the parsley and season with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Serve in soup dishes. The dish should be very moist, but not quite a soup.

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Mandilli de seta al pesto genovese

Buccini sent us this recipe adapted from Luca Minna and Laura Garrone’s Old World New: Family Meals from the Heart of Genoa. He notes that the name for these thin lasagne means ‘silk handkerchiefs’ and that one should use Vermentino wine in making the pasta.

  • 4 cups basil, preferably Ocimum basilicum ‘Genovese’, loosely packed
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh garlic
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1/3 cup finely grated pecorino cheese
  • Pasta dough (see recipe)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
  • 4 basil leaves, garnish

Directions:

  1. For the pesto: Wash the basil in cold water. Gently pinch leaves from stems. Soak the leaves in a bowl of cold water for 1 hour.
  2. Put the pine nuts, olive oil and garlic in a blender. Pulse to make a coarse paste. Add basil leaves, 1 cup at a time, shaking off some, but not all of the water (a little water helps the ingredients emulsify). Pulse a few times after each addition. When all the basil has been pureed, add salt and blend on high until the pesto is smooth.
  3. Add the cheeses and pulse to blend. (Take care not to overblend at this stage or the sauce will heat up and separate like a broken sauce.) Pour the pesto into a broad, medium-size mixing bowl. If it’s more than 20 minutes before serving, cover pesto with a thin film of mild olive oil to slow oxidation. Meanwhile, prepare the pasta dough as in the recipe below.
  4. To shape the mandilli: Feed the pasta dough 3 or 4 times through the widest setting of a pasta machine. Move the roller to the next narrower notch and pass the dough through twice.
  5. Continue 2 passes on each successive notch until you can almost see your hand through the pasta sheet. Cut the pasta sheets into handkerchiefs about 6 inches square.
  6. Fill a large pot with water and place it over high heat to boil. As the water warms, stir in the salt. Drop the pasta gently into the boiling water and cook until al dente, testing after 2 minutes. As the pasta cooks, scoop up a tablespoon of the hot pasta water and stir it into the bowl of pesto to melt the cheese and meld the ingredients. (Never heat pesto over a flame. It kills the flavor.)
  7. Add the cooked, drained pasta to the pesto and stir gently to coat. Place pasta and any remaining pesto on plates. Top with sprinkles of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a basil leaf. Serve immediately.

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Basic Pasta Dough

2 cups Caputo brand “00” flour (or all-purpose flour)

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/4 cup dry white wine (Buccini specified Vermentino)

1 tablespoon Parmigiano-Reggiano

  1. Mound the flour on a cutting board and make a deep well in the center. Crack the eggs into the well and beat them lightly with a fork for 20 seconds. Add the wine and cheese to the well, then gradually push dry flour into the well, stirring in a circular motion with your fingers, until you have a single ball of dough. Press your thumb into the ball. If the dough sticks to your thumb, add a bit more flour. When your thumb comes away clean, the dough is ready to knead.
  2. Knead dough for 7 to 9 minutes until smooth. If you don’t use the dough immediately, cover it with a damp cloth. Or, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for up to 3 days. Remove it from the refrigerator an hour before using it to warm it up and make it pliable enough to work with.