Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Italy on the Brain: Pasta Pecorino Montese

A view of buildings in San Martino
That is a good description of me, these days - the title of this post.  I have Italy on the brain in a true, non-stop way similar only to the way I had Italy on the brain just after I'd had my first taste of it.  And if you've been to Italy, you know what I mean.  

The essence of Italy is beyond their national culinary genius, their unparalleled artistic contribution, their irrepressible and irresistible - innate, even - ability to enjoy and live in pleasure the way few other cultures can or have.  It is, like all intangibles, invisible but all the more present for it.  And it's contagious.  I went there first a llittle over 10 years ago, and I've never looked back since.  And while I hesitate to make this claim because it's just so cliched, I will do it: My name is Brenda, and I am an Italophile.  

If you know anything about me and my random wanderings and all the places I've demanded life take me or unknowingly been pushed to, you might question my self-proclaimed Italophile-ness.  But the reality is that no matter how much I denity it - whatever I do, wherever I go, and whatever I love - I always come back to Italy.  I spent two of my most formative adolescent years there, I studied there, I discovered art and philosophy and travel there.  I became an adult and tested independence and questioned God and the Pope there.  I fell in and out of love there.  I met my husband there.  And one day, I always knew, I'd take my son, Roman, there.

Ironically, having just lived in London for 3 1/2 years, in relative proximity to Italy, I only went back once or twice and never to Rome.  At that point in my life, I had no desire to revisit places I'd already seen, feeling that I should take as much advantage of getting to know new countries and cultures rather than rehashing endlessly all things Italian.  It took moving to the Middle East to realize how much I missed it.  Well that and I just finished reading Eat, Pray, Love (go ahead, roll your eyes all your pop-culture haters!), an interesting book which takes part (1/3) in Rome.   

Rome, for me, is the mecca of all things Italian and holds particular importance for me as it's where I first met my Connecticuttian husband 8 years ago.  While I don't wish to give Gilbert's book more credit than it deserves in this instance, this book did make me remember all the wonderful things I'd fallen in love with about Italy.  And that combined with a growing awareness that Roman is soon approaching the dreaded travel-joy-kill that will be his 2nd birthday (read: you have to buy full-price airline tickets for kids over 2), made me go into a frenzied, maniacal, desperate search for a reason, any reason, to go back to Italy as soon as possibly possible.  And no, that was not a typo.
Eid Al Adha hits the UAE right in the middle of November and provides Matt with a full week of vacation, or close enough.  As soon as I'd heard this news I was online looking for flights.  Screw Istanbul, forget Jordan, I'm so over Dubai - I want ITALY.  And a couple of petty arguments over stop-overs, itineraries and possible lay-overs later, I got ITALY in the form of tickets to Roma, Roma, beautiful Roma.

We will also be visiting Matt's distant family in the south of Italy in a small village in the hills / mountains of rustic Campania.  The village called San Martino is about as real-deal Italian village as you can get - free entirely of tourists and occupied by generations that have lived there since before the World Wars.  Let me start by saying that it has a castle and a mill where Matt's grandmother used to grind grains to make bread.  People grow their own everything (fruit, rabbits, lettuce, you name it), the town is accidentally (naturally) landscaped with wild fennel, oregano, and roses.  There is a street named after Matt's family there and the village church is where his grandparents were married.  These Italians live forever because they walk the hills and forage for (delicious, unbelievable) mushrooms, and tin their own tomatoes.  I can't entirely describe the strangely satisfying form of torture we will undergo while there, but suffice it to say that we will be coerced into eating more than anyone should ever eat by families who show love through wildly delicious food and conversation animated the way only Italians can (the way it should be, if you ask me) - and we will like it.

We might take a couple of days to go to the Amalfi coast, but after Rome and San Martino this will probably pale.

So today before I sat down to write this post I was inspired and made a lunch for myself that encapsulates the deliciousness I anticipate for this Italian trip.  It was a "toss the salad with your hands" kind of day in the kitchen, and I did.  I relished getting cheese and olive oil all over everything and I savored the flavor of plain-ish spaghetti.  These are the things I love.  These are the things of Italy.

* * * 

Path to the river, along the Mill
San Martino
Fresh Olive Oil, Sediment Separating
Gathered Nuts
San Martino

Unveiling Homemade Tomato Sauce
The Pride of the Home

A Well-Used Pot Collection
San Martino

* * *

Pasta Pecorino Montese

Serves 1

Hipstamatic Pasta Pecorino Montese

This pasta dish is one that I make myself when I am home alone and want something delicious but easy to make.  It is a perfect fall dish and exemplifies a fusion between Rome and Campania  with its use of Pecorino Romano, Lemons, and mushrooms.

Spaghetti (1 portion)
1 or 2 handfuls of your favorite mushrooms (oyster, porcini or white), roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
small handful fresh marjoram
small handful fresh basil
2 tbsp pecorino romano, grated
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp pepperoncino (crushed red pepper)
1/2 lemon


1. Bring enough water to prepare the spaghetti to a boil.

2. In the meantime, heat 1 -2 tbsp olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  Once hot, add the garlic and crushed red pepper.  Sautee until fragrant.  Add the mushrooms and brown.  Do not turn often, letting them caramelize slightly.

3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta.

4.Once the mushrooms are fully cooked, add the fresh herbs and toss.  Turn off the heat, add salt and pepper to taste.

5.  Once the pasta is done, put in a bowl and add the mushroom mixture, grated pecorino, some extra olive oil, and splash with lemon juice.  Mix the pasta quickly and lightly and serve immediately.

Goes great with a simple frisee salad dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar.

Buon Appetito!
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1 comment:

  1. I have Italy on the brain too, still unpacking and trying to get sorted out, but the pictures I downloaded make me want to jump on the plain and head back. What an amazing time, and the food, and the wine. I'll be swapping stories wit you as soon as I get organized. In the mean time, happy planning because that is half the fun!