Drops of Italian blood that we carry generation after generation keep the longing of sounds, smells and tastes from Bella Italia, no matter how far in time and space. My great-grandparents emigrated from Italy during the Great Depression. Whenever me and my family, including the extended family - my friends - feel its call, I have a possible solution: my Cuore d'Italia pasta, a personal recipe that is not based on a regional or traditional recipe, but it is meant to reminisce and relive some of Italy's emblematic ingredients and tastes.
What makes Italian cuisine one of the best in the world, if not the best, is the fact that it is based on the quality of a few main, basic ingredients and the ability to save their characteristics through or even despite cooking them. Brilliance through quality and simplicity, would be the right motto for Italy's most treasured food like pizza, pasta and various antipasti.
Cuore d'Italia (Heart of Italy) as I conceived it is a way to serve pasta with a few nostalgic trademark ingredients: the tomato sauce, parmesan, prosciutto, gorgonzola and rucola, enough to say: What more can one need? for a snapshot of palate happiness and a time-space journey to Italy.
It goes without saying that, for this recipe to work its magic, one needs the best pasta (preferably fresh), a fine gorgonzola, quality prosciutto and parmesan, but I also dare you to use a great Italian olive oil, ripe farm tomatoes, and even a special salt or pepper, and generally to make it based on high quality Italian (and local) ingredients, as much as possible. The local touch would be a way to celebrate Italians around the world, and the culture of food - a perpetual anonymous collective effort - where the spirit of a country mixing in local flavors becomes a relay of traditions leading to new, creative forms.
I chose tagliattele verdi as pasta (green pasta with spinach), they went well with my current cravings, but they generally go well with this recipe. This version of Cuore d'Italia (I will repost the classical version) comes with a summery twist: apricots! You will see...
INGREDIENTS (for 4 portions)
For the tomato sauce
4-6 medium, well-ripened tomatoes
5-6 garlic cloves
a small bunch of basil leaves
freshly ground black pepper
(if the tomatoes aren't ripe enough, you might want to use 1 tsp of sugar)
For the pasta plate
500g green tagliatelle (or your pasta of choice)
100g parmesan (I used Parmigiano Reggiano)
150g gorgonzola (I used Galbani)
100g prosciutto (I used Prosciutto di Parma)
Let's make the sauce now. This is one of my special pasta sauce recipes, I only use fresh tomatoes for it, and its main specialty is in the manner of cooking the tomatoes. Take half of the tomatoes and cut each one in 8 slices. Heat your grill at the highest temperature, and when it's hot, place the tomatoes on the grill and when their sugary selves begin to stick to the grill, turn them over with a grill turner. Grill them good, for about 10 min overall, and when charred on both sides, remove from the grill and place them on a plate or wooden trencher for a few minutes, to cool. At this point, they should look like this:
Separately, mince the rest of the tomatoes, the fresh ones.
In your saucepan or favorite pasta sauce cookware, heat some olive oil and add a few of the basil leaves, to flavor your oil. The inviting smell of grilled tomatoes will be now accompanied by the promise of an Italian visit. Then throw in the minced tomatoes, pressed garlic, the rest of basil (you can keep 2-3 basil leaves that you can finely chop and then add when the sauce is ready, to recover a fresh basil flavor), salt, pepper and if you feel the tomatoes are too dry or too green, also add a tsp of sugar. Let it cook on low heat for about 5 min, while mixing regularly.
Time to mince the grilled tomatoes and add them to the sauce.
Leave for another 10 min, on very low heat, while continuing to mix. This is a rather "dry" sauce, it will not drown your pasta in red sauce, its purpose according to this recipe is to mostly add the flavor of traditional Italian tomato sauce to the final mix.
While tending to the sauce, you can boil your pasta. You can use a pasta cooker, but if you don't have one, just fill a pot with water, enough to (this time) drown the pasta, add salt and vegetable oil (which is the best ingredient for not letting the pasta stick). When boiling, add your pasta and cook until al dente (according to label). When cooked, drain the water. Make sure to leave a little bit of liquid in the pot, before throwing the pasta back in. It helps the tagliatelle recover their moisture. Mix the pasta with the sauce, while they're both hot.
We've had enough of just smelling, let's make our plate and devour it. Quickly make a plate with tagliatelle, to which you add a little bit of parmesan, pieces of gorgonzola, then la rucola (you break the rather long leaves into smaller pieces, with your hand, it will make your hands smell like an Italian mamma's), pieces of prosciutto, more parmesan, and finely, thin slices of apricots.
A melting pot experience, in more than one way. Welcome to our Epicurean adventure!