Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Spaghetti alla Carrettiera--Sicilian Simplicity At Its Best

Pasta alla carrettiera against
a ceramic decorative cart.
A hallmark of “cucina povera” is the ability to transform easily available, simple ingredients into a scrumptious meal.  “Pasta alla carretiera”  or cart driver's pasta, illustrates this best.  This pasta received its name from cart drivers of bygone eras. Easy to make and transport by people whose job was to travel long distances by cart, this dish likely lent itself to roadside cooking.  An image comes to mind,  of a cart driver stopping at the side of the road, stooping over a makeshift fire as he cooks his pasta and prepares tomatoes and garlic for a simple but hearty meal.  Because the ingredients in this sauce are raw it is not only tasty, but extremely light and healthy.

A mortar and pestle
and braids of  garlic are essential
to my Sicilian kitchen
To make servings for 6 persons, begin by removing the seeds from about 3 pounds of ripe, raw heirloom tomatoes of your choice and coarsely chopping them.   Put them in an extra large mixing bowl.  Add a cup of your finest extra virgin olive oil. Follow with salt, and ground red peperoncino to taste, a generous handful of fresh Italian basil torn in pieces, and 3 medium cloves of garlic that have been ground with a wooden mortar and pestle.  (If you cannot digest raw garlic, I suggest you leave the cloves whole and take them out later—the flavor will remain but will not affect your digestion or breath!)

Heirloom tomatoes freshly picked from my garden.
Set the sauce aside for two or three hours allowing all the ingredients to amalgamate and the flavors to absorb.  When ready, cook 2 pounds of spaghetti al dente. Drain, and  toss together with the sauce while  the pasta is still piping hot. Serve immediately with abundant grated pecorino  sheep's milk cheese. 

Roasted whole fish is an excellent second course
paired with Pasta Alla Carrettiera
In Sicily this pasta is served with eggplant cut in rounds and sautéed in olive oil.  A delicious main entree typically paired with this pasta is fire roasted sardines or grilled whole fish.  While this food is modest, there is true happiness in these flavors and perhaps that is the reason that in my family this pasta is always prepared for festive occasions—garden meals, picnics by the sea; late night summer meals called “spaghettate di mezzanotte” or midnight spaghetti dinner!    

Until next time, buon appetito and ….
Ciao a presto!

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