Here’s a great spur-of-the-moment Neapolitan pasta dish for a quick weeknight dinner or perhaps a midnight snack:
For each serving of pasta:
- 100g (3-1/2 oz) of tubetti (aka ditali or ditalini)
- A heaping spoonful of butter or lard
- 1 egg
- 1 spoonful each of Parmesan and pecorino cheese
- A few sprigs of fresh parsely, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Boil the tubetti in well-salted water. When the pasta is done, drain (not too well) and add back to the pot. Mix in the butter or lard and stir until the fat has completely melted. Then add a mixture of the egg(s) beaten with grated parmesan and pecorino cheese and parsley, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. Stir briefly over low heat until the egg has solidified and serve immediately with some additional grated cheese (of either kind) for those who would like it.
The mixture of egg, cheese and parsley is a common one in Neapolitan (and other Italian) cooking. It is mixed with ricotta as a stuffing for ravioli or lasagna di carnevale, and it is used as a kind of condiment or vegetables like zucchini, chicory or peas. It is also added, as a final florish, to lamb or capretto (baby goat) stew. Here it ‘stars’ on its own as the condiment for pasta.
The use of lard (called strutto in Italian) in this dish may surprise and even dismay some readers, but in fact lard, not olive oil, was the predominant traditional cooking medium in much of Campanian cooking, including many of its most famous dishes. It is the traditional fat for making ragù alla napoletana and for making pastry dough, making ‘lard bread’ known as casatiello, for sartù di riso. In the old days, even pizza was traditionally slathered with a bit of liquified lard. It is also excellent for deep frying. Olive oil is used in seafood dishes and, of course, in salads, and these days lard is giving way to olive and other oils for health reasons even in these traditional dishes.
Tubetti are usually considered a kind of ‘soup pasta’, and are commonly used for dishes with legumes, such as pasta e fagioli, pasta e ceci, pasta e lenticchie and pasta e piselli—all of which are either soups or ‘soupy’ dishes. (The exact demarcation between a thick soup and a soupy pasta dish is always a bit hazy). Its use here as a true pastasciutta is fairly unusual. Besides tubetti, I would venture that this dish would work well with just about any short, stubby pasta. If using a ‘soup pasta’ like tubetti, the dish is best eaten with a spoon rather than a fork.
This recipe is based on one found in La cucina napoletana by Jeanne Carola Francesconi (recipe no. 114).