Back in the 15th century, Italians had not yet discovered the tomato. It was still hiding in the undiscovered Americas. But they had been enjoying pasta for centuries, having created a number of ways to cook and eat it.
The reformer friar Girolamo Savanrola had other ideas. His goal was saving the souls of the people of Florence. He drew big crowds every Sunday when he took to the pulpit, ranting about their excesses. Considering the Florentines too worldly, too busy living the good life, creating and enjoying literature, art, and music, he encouraged followers to light bonfires in the city squares and throw in their books, paintings, clothing, whatever luxuries they owned.
Nothing escaped his indictment, including food. Especially pasta. Weekly he called out the evils of their delicious recipes.
“It is not enough for you to eat your pasta fried! No! You think you have to add garlic! And when you eat ravioli, it is not enough to boil it in a pot and eat it in its own juices. You have to fry it in another pot and cover it with cheese!”
But finally, he went too far. Pasta, as well as a lot of his other opinions, was off limits. Eventually the Florentines, tired of him and his radical views, burned him at the stake.
I don’t know that there’s a lesson here, but I do know that pasta has been boiled and fried, stacked, folded, filled and sauced in so many ways that there’s no longer an accurate count of the recipes. And, to prove that point, here are three pasta recipes, delicious even without tomato sauce. Warning: Each one is decadent in its own way, and would probably have incurred the friar’s wrath.
RIGATONI DEL CURATO
Makes 6 servings
Buy a wedge of the cheese to grate with a hand grater just before beginning the recipe. The consistency of the sauce turns out lighter and lovelier.
3 tablespoons butter
1 pound mushrooms, thickly sliced
8 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, to taste, very finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 pound rigatoni, mezze rigatoni, or ziti
3/4 cup heavy cream, whipped to peaks
2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-reggiano
1. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the bacon and sauté; drain off most of the fat. Take bacon out of the pan and set aside.
2. Add mushrooms to the pan. Cook, on high heat, until mushrooms begin to brown. Add wine and rosemary. Return the bacon to the pan.
3. In a bowl, fold grated cheese into whipped cream; set aside.
4. Cook the pasta until al dente, slightly under the time given on the box; drain in a colander. Transfer to a serving bowl or platter. Pour on bacon-mushroom mixture; toss to blend. Top hot pasta with whipped cream mixture; toss again. The cream mixture will melt into the pasta. Serve hot.
PASTA WITH HERBED RICOTTA, TOMATOES AND SPINACH
Makes 4 to 6 servings
4 cups fresh spinach, rinsed
2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
4 scallions trimmed and minced
1/3 cup packed basil leaves
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1 pound penne, or other tubular pasta
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1. Blanch spinach leaves in a pot of salted boiling water until limp, 1 minute. Drain; cool under running water. Wring dry and chop coarsely.
2. Put ricotta in a large bowl; beat with a fork until smooth. Stir in spinach, scallions, basil, parsley and olive oil. Add salt, pepper, to taste.
3. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain; toss with ricotta mixture; garnish with pine nuts. Serve hot.
SPAGHETTI WITH OLIVE PUREE, ANCHOVES AND CAPERS
Makes 4 servings
I like thick spaghetti with this recipe. The texture adds something more to the finished dish.
1 tablespoon capers, salted or marinated
3/4 pound thick spaghetti
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
6 anchovy fillets
1 cup chopped fresh flat Italian parsley
2 tablespoons black olive puree
1. Rinse capers of vinegar or salt. Bring the wine to a boil, and simmer gently while you prepare the sauce.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet. Bruise garlic; add to oil, with hot pepper flakes to bring out their flavor.
3. Chop the anchovy fillets. Add them, with the parsley, to the skillet. Cook over very low heat while mashing the anchovies to a paste in the skillet.
4. Drain the capers; add olive puree and wine. Cook very gently until heated through; remove and discard garlic.
5. Cook the pasta; save a half-cup of the cooking water and drain. Add 3 or 4 tablespoons of pasta water to sauce. Add pasta to sauce, toss and serve, 1 minute, until coated. Serve from pan.
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by email at KitchenCall@aol.com. Read Linda’s blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.