Back in the beforetimes, I visited Home & Family on the Hallmark Cannel to make this recipe from Food of the Italian South with Debbie Matenopoulos & the gang. You can watch the broadcast above and cook along using the recipe below.
Paccheri alla Cilentana (Paccheri with Capers, Olives, Anchovies, and Fried Bread Crumbs)
The first time I drove along Cilento’s Tyrrhenian Coast, I was astounded by the natural spectacle of the place. Caper plants clung to sheer cliffs around one turn, while the next revealed olive orchards teetering on impossibly vertical terraced farmland. Cilento’s verdant beauty is occasionally interrupted by a tiny village where fishermen cast their nets into some of Italy’s most pristine waters, raising wriggling anchovies from the Tyrrhenian Sea. After many visits to the Amalfi Coast, which is just a one-hour drive north of Cilento, it’s impossible to not be floored by how unspoiled certain areas of Campania remain, totally untouched by the mass tourism and cruise ship itineraries that shape the Amalfi Coast today. This pasta dish is an homage to Campania’s most unspoiled coastline, where olives and capers grow beside a sea teeming with anchovies. The tube-like paccheri “scoop” up all the savory sauce.
I cannot overstate the importance of using high-quality olives. With the south’s super-simple recipes, each flavor is conspicuous—the reason such basic recipes are so good is that they rely on ingredients at their peak. In Italy, it’s not a luxury to have a family olive grove. It’s not as common as it once was, but plenty of home cooks still have access to hand-harvested and naturally cured olives. So short of moving to Italy and befriending a farmer or buying a country house, invest in the best-quality olives you can. Avoid canned or presliced olives. If you don’t have a good Italian deli in your neighborhood, look for purveyors of Greek, Turkish, North African, or Middle Eastern foods. If you can only find seasoned olives, rinse them before using.
Serves 4 to 6
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 salted anchovy fillets, cleaned
¾ cup Gaeta olives, rinsed and pitted
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
1 pound paccheri (if you can’t find them, rigatoni are a fine replacement)
½ cup Fried Breadcrumbs (see recipe below), for garnish
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the garlic and anchovies and cook until the garlic begins to turn golden and the anchovies have melted into the oil, about 5 minutes. Add the olives and capers and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Turn off the heat and let the ingredients bloom in the hot oil.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Salt the water. When the salt has dissolved, add the paccheri and cook until al dente. Drain the paccheri, reserving the pasta cooking water, and add the pasta to the pan with the olives and capers, stirring to coat. Add some pasta cooking water as needed to loosen the sauce. Season with salt to taste. Plate and sprinkle each portion with the fried seasoned bread crumbs..
Fried Bread Crumbs
Rather than fry the bread crumbs in a pan, I like to mix them with oil and “fry” them in the oven. This helps them stay crispy when you mix them with the pasta. The recipe above only calls for 1/2 cup but I always make extra. The bread crumbs will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Makes 2 cups
8 to 10 slices dry rustic bread with crusts, torn into bite-size pieces
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons dried oregano or chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 300°F.
In a large bowl, toss together the bread, olive oil, oregano, and salt until well combined. Spread out the bread pieces on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until crispy and completely dried out, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until broken down to the size of coarse coffee grounds.
Recipe from Food of the Italian South. Get your signed copy here.
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