Maccheroni positanesi

FrankCampania, pasta, primi piatti, summer29 Comments

Maccheroni positanesi

This week we have another great recipe for you from Jeanne Carola Francesconi: maccheroni positanesi, or Pasta Positano Style. In the tradition of no cook tomato sauces like the much better known pasta al pomodoro crudo, in this recipe the pasta is dressed “a sette sapori“—with seven flavors: tomato, garlic, onion, celery, parsley, basil and oregano. Francesconi also offers up a ten flavor variation, where you add to these basic seven the holy trinity of Neapolitan flavorings we saw just last week: anchovies, capers and olives.

Maccheroni positanesi has a more delicate flavor profile than its more famous cousin, as the recipe includes no hot pepper and its use of garlic is extremely subtle. You simply rub the pasta bowl with a cut clove and discard it. The tomato and other flavorings are reduced to a fine mince and bathed in olive oil. And yet, as delicate as it is, maccheroni positanesi will fill your mouth with its complex combination of flavors. Highly unusual for Italian cookery, which typically focuses on making the most out of a few essential ingredients. But therein lies the charm of this unique dish. A delicious change of pace, maccheroni positanesi definitely deserve to be better known.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 500g (1 lb) linguine or other durum wheat pasta of your choice (see Notes)

For the seven flavor version:

  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half
  • 600g (1-1/4 lb) ripe tomatoes (see Notes)
  • 1/2 medium red onion
  • 1/2 stalk celery
  • A sprig or two of fresh parsley
  • A small bunch of basil
  • A spring of fresh or a pinch of dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Plus these for the ten flavor version:

  • 2-3 anchovy fillets
  • A handful of capers, soaked and squeezed dry
  • A handful of black olives, preferably of the Gaeta variety

Directions

A couple of hours ahead of time, skin the tomatoes (see Notes), remove their seeds and cut the pulp into small dice. Set in a colander to drain.

When you’re ready to cook, mince together the onion, celery, parsley and basil, along with the fresh oregano if using, very finely. If making the ten flavor version, include the anchovy, capers and olives as well.

Rub a salad or serving bowl large enough to hold all the pasta comfortably with the cut side of the garlic clove. Discard the garlic.

Add the tomatoes to the bowl, along with the minced ingredients, a pinch of dried oregano if using, salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and mix everything together.

Bring a large pot of well salted water to the boil and add the pasta. Cook al dente.

Drain the pasta very well, then transfer to the bowl. Mix vigorously with the tomato and flavorings and serve right away.

Notes

positano

I have to think most of you have probably heard of Positano, but in case you haven’t, it’s a famed resort town on the Amalfi Coast. This former fishing village is beautifully set on the slopes leading down the sea. I have lots of fond memories of the place, as we used to go there for weekend breaks during our Roman years. Breathtaking views, crystalline waters and, of course, lovely food. If you have’t been, you owe yourself a visit!

Ingredients

Francesconi is a bit inconsistent about the pasta to use when making maccheroni positanesi. Although the word has a confusing variety of meanings today, her use of maccheroni here was simply an old timey Neapolitan way to refer to durum wheat pasta. She specifies linguini in the ingredients list, but the instructions call for vermicelli (aka spaghetti) or linguini. In the intro to the recipe she says a long pasta is best, but that in practice any extruded durum wheat pasta works. I’d go with that last statement. Personally, for no cook sauces like this one, I tend to prefer short pastas like conchiglie (small shells) that catch the bits of tomato and flavorings. Having said that, I thought the spaghetti I used for this post worked quite well.

As for the tomatoes, Francesconi calls for pomodori a fiaschella“. While her meaning isn’t entirely clear to me, I’m guessing she may have been referring to one of the cultivars of small, oval tomatoes called Fiascella grown around the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, a forebear of both prized Pomodorino del Piennolo del Vesuvio DOP and the ultra-famous San Marzano tomato. Those of us who can’t get a hold of these can go for any smallish tomato, so long as it’s in season and full of flavor. A farmer’s market is your best bet. If you’re stuck with supermarket tomatoes, then go for a reliable hydroponic like my favorite, Camparis.

A number of modern renditions of maccheroni positanesi call for cherry or grape tomatoes. This results in a rather different dish. The tomatoes tend to sit top of the pasta—especially if it’s a long pasta—rather than clinging to it as tiny dice do. In any event, there’s no need to peel or drain them. Just halve them as is and proceed with the next step in the recipe.

Technique

Speaking of peeling tomatoes, if you’ve ever tried it, you know they’re virtually impossible to peel raw. As with peppers, you need to loosen the skin up a bit beforehand. There are two methods for doing so: you can plunge them into boiling water or roast them over an open flame. In either case, you want to be very quick. You want to loosen the skin without cooking the pulp. Usually 30 seconds will do if you’re parboiling. Roasting takes a bit longer, since you need to rotate the tomato over the flame so it blisters on all sides, perhaps a minute and half, or two minutes maximum.

Of the two, boiling is easier but each method has its proponents. Those who roast say boiling will “dilute” the flavor. Not true, in my opinion, as it’s over so quickly there is no impact on flavor or texture. On the other hand, roasting takes a bit longer and may intensify the flavor slightly. And do be careful: if you overdo it you risk lending an unwelcome smokiness to the dish.

To my mind, the best way to mince the various flavorings together is with a mezzaluna on a cutting board. A mezzaluna is a half-moon cutter that is one of the traditional tools of the Italian kitchen. You hold it with both hands and rock it from side to side over your ingredients, making (relatively) short work of jobs like this. (This video illustrates the technique.) Often considered a tool for mincing herbs, Italian cooks will use the mezzaluna for mincing aromatic vegetables like onions, carrots and celery, too. You just need to cut them up roughly with a knife before starting in with the mezzaluna. If you don’t have a mezzaluna then a sharp knife will do the job, just not quite as quickly and easily.

Admittedly, mincing by hand is a bit of work, but you have absolute control over how fine you’re mincing the ingredients. And they’ll always have the finest possible texture, since the mezzaluna will mince them without crushing them. If you’re in a hurry, you could resort a food processor. Just be careful to pulse the ingredients little by little until you’ve reached the right consistency, finely minced but not mush.

Other stuff

Francesconi recommends serving maccheroni positanesi right away as indicated in this post. But some recipes say it can be made ahead and eaten at room temperature. And indeed they’re right, although it’s still at its best, in my opinion, eaten in the moment.

As with so many southern Italian dishes, this recipe for maccheroni positanesi is incidentally vegan. Just so long as you leave out the anchovy, of course.

Maccheroni positanesi

Pasta Positano Style

Ingredients

  • 500g 1 lb linguine or spaghetti or other durum wheat pasta of your choice

For the seven flavor version:

  • 1 clove 1 clove of garlic peeled and cut in half
  • 750g 1-1/2 lb ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 medium red onion
  • 1/2 stalk celery
  • A sprig or two of fresh parsley
  • A few sprigs of fresh basil
  • A spring of fresh or a pinch of dried oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil

Plus, for the ten flavor version:

  • 2-3 anchovy fillets
  • A handful of capers soaked and squeezed dry
  • A handful of black olives preferably of the Gaeta variety

Instructions

  • A couple of hours ahead of time, skin the tomatoes (see Notes), remove their seeds and cut the pulp into small dice. Set in a colander to drain. 
  • When you're ready to cook, mince together the onion, celery, parsley and basil, along with the fresh oregano if using, very finely. If making the ten flavor version, include the anchovy, capers and olives as well. 
  • Rub a salad or serving bowl large enough to hold all the pasta comfortably with the cut side of the garlic clove. Discard the garlic. 
  • Add the tomatoes to the bowl, along with the minced ingredients, a pinch of dried oregano if using, salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and mix everything together. 
  • Bring a large pot of well salted water to the boil and add the pasta. Cook al dente. 
  • Drain the pasta very well, then transfer to the bowl. Mix vigorously with the tomato and flavorings and serve right away. 

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29 Comments on “Maccheroni positanesi”

  1. You had me at “no cook tomato sauce” ! Perfect for this dog days of summer. So many fresh chopped herbs gives it the best flavors of summer. Love it!

  2. Such a beautiful pasta variation – simple yet packed with flavour! I don’t think I’ve ever seen / tasted celery in pasta recipes, but I’m intrigued. And those three additional flavours sound perfect to me – I associate them with Summer and the Sun, so I think they’re a great addition to this pasta.

    1. Thanks, Ben! This dish is definitely summery! And the celery is an interesting touch although it does actually figure in many pasta sauces, as part of the Holy Trinity of aromatic vegetables that go into the soffritto that forms the flavor base for many sauces. That said, you don’t often see it in such a prominent role as it plays here. One reason I like the dish!

  3. Another gem. I particularly like the addition of celery.
    I cannot find this one in my first edition – I wonder if it was a later recipe….anyway, every time I pick up Francesconi, I am in awe of her book.

    I was looking for this one and I came across an old friend: maccheroni cotti crudi, which did not work for me at the time but one that still intrigues me and that I want to try again (I must have made mistakes); have u ever made it?
    thans for this jewel, Frank

    1. If it’s any help, in my edition (3rd edition, 1997) it’s recipe 116 (and 117 for the ten flavor version) in the section “I maccheroni al pomodoro”. And yes, the book is awesome. Literally, not in the contemporary sense of the word! Now the crazy thing is, I can’t find maccheroni cotti crudi! What’s it like? I’m curious…

      1. thanks… ok. so the two editions do not correspond.
        maccheroni cotti crudi is a recipe from Cavalcanti: basically uncooked pasta that is cooked in between layers of raw tomatoes. Francesconi uses Mezzani pasta, recipe no. 130 (apologies: I should have said mezzani from the beginning) ,
        this is Cavalcanti (Ippolito, duca di Buonvicino)

        Timpano di vermicelli con pomidoro cotti crudi.

        Per ogni quarto di vermicelli ci và un rotolo di pomidoro, però debbono essere di quelle tonde e non molto grandi.

        Prendi la casseruola proporzionata pel numero di coperti, che dovrai servire, farai in essa una verniciata di sugna, dipoi dividerai per mettà li pomidoro, e li porrai nel fondo della casseruola, con la parte umida al disotto, e la pelle al disopra, e sopra di esse ci porrai un altro filo di pomidoro anche divise per mettà, con la differenza, che la parte umida delle seconde resterà alla parte di sopra, e così sarà coverto tutto il fondo della casseruola; ci porrai del sale, del pepe, e sopra di esse adatterai li vermicelli crudi, spezzandoli siccome è la larghezza della casseruola, e ne coprirai li pomidoro; sopra i vermicelli porrai gli altri pomidoro divisi sempre per mettà, che spruzzerai di sale, pepe, e sopra di esse situerai gli altri vermicelli di contraria posizione degli antecedenti, e così praticherai finchè si sarà riempita la casseruola; l’ultimo suolo delli pomidoro le situerai, con la pelle alla parte di sopra, e per ultimo ci porrai il condimento; sia oglio, [p. 58 modifica]sia strutto, sia butiro, sarà sempre pria liquefatto, e quindi lo verserai nella casseruola, che farai cuocere come al timpano.

        Debbo prevenirti ancora, che se ti piace farlo di magro ci farai de’ tramezzi di alici salse, ed allora ci porrai l’oglio; se vorresti condirlo con butiro, o strutto, potrai farci de’ tramezzi di fettoline di mozzarella; par, che mi sia bastantemente spiegato per questa inetta operazione, e laddove non giunga la mia insinuante spiegazione, supplirà la tua perspicacia.

        1. Grazie!

          Well I looked all over and it seem my edition doesn’t have that recipe. (Recipe 130 is for penne a olive e capperi, go figure.) Many others from Cavalcanti (about whom I want to write a post one day) but not that one. Interesting recipe, though. I do have to wonder how totally raw pasta would turn out how ever long you cooked it. I’m guessing a bit stodgy and/or sticky for modern tastes…?

          1. when I tried it, I failed it. The pasta would not cook. But if you google “pasta cotta cruda” you will find many contemporary Italian versions… hence it must work. I guess that with super juicy and flavoursome tomatoes, oil, garlic, parsley, it can work
            but I am reluctant right now to use my oven for 45 minutes to cook some pasta, I admit.. One day, I will try again, I am sure

  4. I’ve been looking for an excuse to get a mezzaluna – and this recipe helps that argument! 🙂 You are right that this one is different than traditional Italian recipes. Rubbing the bowl with a clove of garlic and discarding it? Interesting! I feel like that would barely bring the flavor of garlic into play here. I’m intrigued, though! I haven’t had the chance to visit Positano yet, but it is on the list. Thanks for sharing this one, Frank – it sounds delicious!!

    1. I think you’ll really like this one, David. And definitely go for that mezzaluna, I use it all the time. Since most models only cost around $20, you shouldn’t need a very strong excuse. 😉

  5. I think I will make mine “al nove sapori!” 🙂 What a great dish, Frank — I really don’t know Frencesconi’s work — I need to learn more. This is a perfect dish for this hot season. I hope you are staying cool!

    1. Ah yes, that nasty garlic. Well, I doubt you’d miss it, the effect is very subtle as you can probably tell. And yes, you should definitely look into Francesconi if you like Neapolitan cookery. Her book is available on Amazon, although it’d set you back a cool $72. You might want to wait until you next trip to Italy… !

  6. i’m not a pasta fan but there are some good flavours here. I prefer to grate my tomatoes; it’s so much easier than peeling and chopping 🙂

    1. Well, well… In my nearly 64 years of living you’re the very first person I’ve come across who doesn’t like pasta! Some who are cutting down or avoiding it to lose weight or reduce carbs yes, but no one who actually didn’t like it, never. Until now! Live and learn.

  7. Oh Frank – Sunday morning smile on the face . . . remember taking our small daughters to Positano from Rome for lunch – they sat and ate and looked and were unusually quiet until my six-year-old asked ‘Mommy, is this a fairy-tale?’ Shall copy your recipe verbatim to see how it differs from mine . . . oh the ten ingredient one of course !!!

  8. I agree with you that when it comes to peeling tomatoes, plunging in boiling water is the way to go. I don’t think the flavor is “diluted” at all. Rather, when you roast them, I think you’re somewhat intensifying the flavor of the tomato pulp — because try as you might, it’s impossible (at least for me) to NOT cook the pulp somewhat when I’m roasting. Anyway, this is a terrific looking dish. Ten flavors for me, please — I’ll never turn down anchovies and capers. Or black olives, for that matter. Really nice recipe — thanks.

    1. I see we’re on the same wavelength when it comes to peeling tomatoes, John. Funny I remember being excoriated once for parboiling my tomatoes, a long time ago on a trip to Italy. So the Team Roasting stuck in my head. At the time I was cowed, but many years later I now know better! Thanks for stopping by!

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