Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Well-Kept Sicilian Secret: Pasta With "Tenerumi"

Pasta with “cucuzza and tenerumi” is a Sicilian culinary secret well worth discovering.  Tenerumi,” loosely translated as “tenders,” are the young shoots at the tip of the cucuzza squash stalk. These are tender, delicious, and dont require much preparation. While the tenerumi may include a small leaf or two, usually we do not eat the squash leaves as they are considered too tough. The shoots may have long tendrils, which I generally snip off with scissors.

To make  pasta with cucuzza and tenerumi,  you will need a cucuzza squash weighing about 1½ pounds;  5  or more “tenerumi” shoots; a medium red onion finely sliced; a generous handful of freshly picked Italian flat-leaf parsley; 2 cups of  fresh tomato puree, which can be made by boiling  about 1½lbs  tomatoes in abundant water until the skins begin to crack open, then draining and passing them through a food mill;  4 cup olive oil;  salt and Italian red peperoncino to taste, and one pound of cavatelli pasta.

Cavatelli from Assenti Pasta San Diego
Bring to a boil a stock pot filled with water.  Wash, peel, quarter, and chop the cucuzza into large chunks. Wash the tenerumi shoots and add them along with the cucuzza to the boiling water.  Cook at medium to high heat for about 30 minutes or until the cucuzza pierces easily with a fork.  When ready, add the cavatelli and cook with the cucuzza until pasta is al dente. Drain in a colander and set aside.

Add olive oil to a large sauté pan. Sauté the onion until it is translucent but not browned. Add two cups of tomato puree and cook about 10 minutes over medium heat, adjusting the salt and adding ground or whole peperoncino to taste.   Add the drained cucuzza, tenerumi and pasta to the sauce and toss well over high heat.  Adjust the seasonings and remove from heat, sprinkle with parsley and serve piping hot.  We do not generally serve cheese with this dish. 

A grateful Michael kisses Zia Dora!
This recipe was given to me by my aunt, Dora DeVita. Married to my father’s eldest brother Francesco, the exquisiteness of her kitchen is matched only by her lovely blue eyes. Part of her special fascination centers on her vast knowledge of long forgotten cooking practices and recipes. Her preparation of even common dishes often includes spices and ingredients reminiscent of Sicily’s Saracen past, such as chickpeas, artichoke leaves, dates, pistachios and other delicious and unexpected flavors. My favorite pasta with tenerumi is eaten at her table.

Buon apetito and ciao a presto!


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