Pasta and potatoes

Pasta e patate (Pasta and Potatoes)

In Campania, pasta, primi piatti by Frank18 Comments

To many people the idea of pairing pasta and potatoes comes as a shock. Carbs with carbs? And in these carb-phobic times, it’s not only unheard of, it sounds down right unhealthy. Well, healthy or not, this iconic Neapolitan dish in true cucina povera tradition was born out of the most extreme kind of frugality: typically you make it with leftover odds and ends of dried pasta, just a bit of tomato or tomato paste—the amount that you might also have leftover from making sauce—and the ultimate poor man’s vegetable, the potato. A tribute to the Italian belief that you should never food away. And to the Italian talent for making something delicious out of the humblest of ingredients.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 250g (1/2 lb) pasta (see Notes)
  • 500g (1 lb) yellow-fleshed boiling potatoes
  • 100g (3-1/2 oz) pancetta, guanciale or lardo (see Notes)
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • A few sprigs of parsley, chopped
  • 3-4 tomatoes, fresh or canned, roughly chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A parmesan rind (optional)
  • Parmesan or pecorino romano cheese, to taste

Directions

In a large pot, preferably made of terracotta or enameled cast iron, sauté the chopped cured pork in the olive oil until the fat is translucent and the edges are just beginning to brown. Add the chopped onion, celery and parsley to the pot and give it all a stir, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Sauté these aromatics—known in Italian as a soffritto—until the onion is quite soft and translucent. Add the tomato and let it simmer. If using the Parmesan rind, add it to the pot.

While the tomatoes are simmering, peel the potatoes and cut them into smallish cubes, adding the potato cubes to the pot as you go. When you’re done, give everything a good turn, add a ladleful of water to moisten things, and cover. Let the potato cubes simmer for 1o minutes or so, until they are almost tender. In a separate pot or kettle, bring some water to the simmer.

Add the pasta to the pot, along with enough simmering water to cover the pasta entirely. Season with a generous pinch of salt, stir and cover the pot again. Let the pasta simmer over a moderate flame, stirring from time to time to prevent it sticking to the bottom of the pot, until done al dente. Ladle in more simmering water as needed to keep things loose and liquid.

When things are just about done, add nice handful or two of grated cheese, and taste and adjust for seasoning. Add another ladleful of simmering water to the pot if it needs it—your pasta and potatoes can be served quite soupy or dry, or somewhere in between, as you prefer.

Pasta and Potatoes

Notes on Pasta and Potatoes

As mentioned, the most typical pasta for making Pasta and Potatoes is pasta mista, literally ‘mixed pasta’. You know the odds and ends of pasta that are left in the bottom of your packages of pasta, not quite enough for a serving? Well, there’s no need to throw them away, keep them mixed up together in a large container and use the mix for dishes like this one:

Pasta mista

Pasta mista

Pasta e fagioli (Pasta and Beans) and pasta e ceci (Pasta and Chickpeas) and pasta con la zucca (Pasta and Winter Squash) are other typical Neapolitan dishes made with pasta mista. When making this kind of dish, you’ll need to cook until the hardest pasta is al dente, so this will probably mean some of the other pasta will already be quite soft, and some may even fall apart, but that’s OK. The different degrees of doneness actually adds some interest, if you ask me.

Also quite common for this and similar dishes is pasta spezzata, or ‘broken pasta’: long pasta shapes like spaghetti or linguini, broken up by hand into short lengths. (Angelina always made her Pasta and Lentils with broken linguini.)  Or you can use a stubby ‘soup pasta’ like ditali (the pasta par excellence for Pasta and Peas).

Lardo, by the way, is not lard—called strutto or sugna in Italian—but a kind of cured pork product. It’s hard to find but worth checking out if you can manage to locate a source. Another food tradition that’s bound to shock the uninitiated, lardo is basically pork fat cured with salt, rosemary and spices. The most famous, lardo di Colonnata, has a special flavor, thanks to the acorn rich diet of the pigs. When not used in cooking, lardo is sliced paper-thin and served on top of toasted bread. It quite literally melts in your mouth. Once a poor man’s ham, in this country at least it’s quite expensive, which probably makes it a waste of money to use it for a dish like this.

Like many iconic dishes, Pasta and Potatoes lends itself to many variations according to the cook. My Neapolitan cooking muse, Jeanne Caròla Francesconi, adds carrot to the soffritto, and uses a bit of tomato pasta diluted in water rather than whole tomatoes. For a option, just omit the pork, and going in the opposite direction, you could use broth instead of water for more flavor. Like pasta and fagioli, you can make Pasta and Potatoes ahead, and it only seems to get better.

Pasta e patate (Pasta and Potatoes)

Pasta e patate (Pasta and Potatoes)

Ingredients

  • 250g (1/2 lb) pasta
  • 500g (1 lb) yellow-fleshed boiling potatoes
  • 100g (3-1/2 oz) pancetta, guanciale or lardo
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • A few sprigs of parsley, chopped
  • 3-4 tomatoes, fresh or canned, roughly chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A parmesan rind (optional)
  • Parmesan or pecorino romano cheese, to taste

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan, preferably made of terracotta or enameled cast iron, sauté the chopped cured pork in the olive oil until the fat is translucent and the edges are just beginning to brown. Add the chopped onion, celery and parsley to the pot and give it all a stir, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Sauté the aromatics until the onion is quite soft and translucent. Add the tomato and let it simmer. If using the Parmesan rind, add it to the pot.
  2. While the tomatoes are simmering, peel the potatoes and cut them into smallish cubes, adding the potato cubes to the pot as you go. When you're done, give everything a good turn, add a ladleful of water to moisten things, and cover. Let the potato cubes simmer for 1o minutes or so, until they are almost tender. In a separate pot or kettle, bring some water to the simmer.
  3. Add the pasta to the pot, along with enough simmering water to cover the pasta entirely. Season with a generous pinch of salt, stir and cover the pot again. Let the pasta simmer over a moderate flame, stirring from time to time to prevent it sticking to the bottom of the pot, until done al dente. Ladle in more simmering water as needed to keep things soupy.
  4. When things are just about done, add nice handful of grated cheese, to taste, and taste and adjust for seasoning. Add another ladleful of simmering water to the pot if it needs it—your pasta and potatoes can be served quite soupy or dry, as you prefer.
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Comments

  1. Pingback: pasta e patate – Our Japan

  2. Pingback: Jeanne Caròla Francesconi: La Cucina Napoletana | Memorie di Angelina

  3. Yes, carbs do me in. But nothing satisfies better. I have a love for peasant food and actually prefer it over “fussy.” This is soul-satisfying.

  4. Frank, my mother was born and raised in Napoli! Pasta e Patate is a dish I grew up eating and now make for my own children. I also grew-up eating pasta e zucchini,cavolfiore, lenticchie, and many more. I love your recipes and my mom appreciates how authentic you keep the recipes.

    1. Most of my family is from Formia and so many of the recipes on this site remind me of my nonna’s cooking. Pasta e Palate (along with the other options M.Martino mentioned) is a standard in our home 3 generations and another continent later. Love, love, love the recipes!!

  5. You’ll be surprised, but I have never had pasta e patate growing up — it was not part of my mother’s repertory — but I know it’s popular and your describer quite well all its virtues. And speaking of pasta spezzata, my mother made cauliflower soup with spaghetti spezzati.

  6. Love all these Napolitan dishes.. Pasta e padane was one I grew up with, along with lentils, chickpeas, cauliflower, broccoli just to name a few.

  7. Well, I’ve made and eaten pizza with potatoes many times, so why not pasta? I love the frugality of the mixed pastas from the bottom of the box. And that lardo di Colonnata – I’ve eaten it there and it’s special because they put the lardo in marble tubs, mixed with herbs, then season it inside the marble cavi. I’m glad I had the experience, but still, I’d rather have a nice slice of prosciutto di Parma.

    1. Author

      I guess I’d say I like each for its own virtues, but for regular consumption, yes, prosciutto would probably be my choice, too.

  8. Carb-phobia begone! This reminds me of my mom and dinner at home. I love pasta and potatoes. Sauce it as you please, and pass a plate my way.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Adri! I’m with you, I think this carb thing is a bit overblown. If carbs were that bad for you, rather than having one of the world’s highest longevity rates, the population of Italy (not to mention many East Asian countries) would be in much worse shape.

  9. un piatto tradizionale italiano come questo sono sicura che piacerà anche oltreoceano, ne ho fatto una versione con i fusi istriani tempo fa, un successone a tavola !La prossima volta provo la tua saporita versione, buon weekend Frank !

    1. Author

      Mi avessi piaciuto assaggiare quel piatto di fusi e patate, Chiara. Solo l’idea mi fa venire l’acquolina in bocca!

  10. Wow this has brought so many memories for my husband his mother and father loved all this meals, he doesn’t much for an italian not a good pasta man now I make fresh pasta in less than 10 minutes he is having seconds. Thanks for sharing all this,lovely recipes

    Cheers

    Rosie

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