Have you wondered where I’ve been these past few weeks? Well, I’ve been in “bella Italia” for three weeks, collecting lots and lots of recipes for you. Italy is a treat for all your senses. Visually, you are spellbound by it’s beauty. The air is perfumed with the sweet smell of flowers, sea and mountains. And the food delights your taste buds with each delicious bite. I can close my eyes and still see, smell and taste all that Italy has to offer. It is my hope to share as much of this with you as possible.
One of our stops on this journey was the Amalfi Coast. This is my favorite spot in Italy, and I feel blessed to have visited this magical area many times. The warmth of the people, the breathtaking views everywhere you turn and the fresh food, picked right from the earth or out of the sea, makes for an almost surreal experience. I would like to share as many recipes as possible from this area with you over the next few weeks.
I spent a day with my sister and niece at the cooking school of Mamma Agata in Ravello. She’s a legend on the Amalfi Coast for true traditional cuisine of this region. She’s been cooking in restaurants for celebrities and dignitaries since she was 13. Now, at 72 years old, she has a highly rated cookbook and a very famous cooking school in her home, high in the hills of Ravello. Her daughter, Chiara and son-in-law, Gennaro, have joined her in this endeavor, and have created a wonderful experience that will remain a beautiful memory for me for years to come.
The first recipe that I would like to share with you is her “spaghetti del contadino.” Mamma Agata made this for Jackie Kennedy when she was in Ravello. It is made with all the freshest ingredients, and of course, as Mamma, Chiara and Gennaro say, “cook with love.” So “love” is a very important ingredient. Their love of cooking (and sharing) is evident from the moment you walk into this magnificent home overlooking the sea. You’ll find this all over Italy. Food is love.
I hope you enjoy these recipes from Mamma Agata. I highly recommend her cookbook as well. My sister gave it to me a few years ago, and it is one of my favorites amongst my vast collection. As you will see, her recipes are simple and she shares lots of her secrets. You can also visit her website, http://www.mammaagata.com. However, if you ever get to the Amalfi Coast, don’t miss the chance to meet and cook with this lovely lady and her family. It’s a thrill of a lifetime.
NOTE: I’ve included a few pictures of Mamma Agata’s views from her terrace and kitchen. Who wouldn’t “love” to cook with those surroundings!!!
RECIPE: Serves 4
1 pound of spaghetti
1 1/4 lbs of ripe cherry tomatoes
1 TBSP fresh parsley, finely chopped
6 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 tsp dried oregano
2 dozen green olives (with or without pits…I definitely like no pits)
2 dozen black olives ( with or without pits)
1 TBSP Capers (packed in salt, if available, and rinsed)
1 cup fresh arugula
1. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half (if large, cut into quarters) and place them in a bowl with the chopped parsley. ( Mamma A says this enhances the flavor of the tomatoes. Who knew?)
2. Thinly slice the garlic and add it to the room temperature extra virgin olive oil.
3. Slowly heat the garlic and oil over a very low temperature so that the flavor of the garlic will infuse the oil as it is cooking.
4. When the oil and garlic are warm and have been gently cooked, add the halved cherry tomatoes, parsley, oregano, green and black olives, and rinsed capers to the pan.
5. Cook until tomatoes have cooked down, and all the flavors have melded. (She doesn’t give us cooking time, but I cooked it for about 10 minutes.) Keep checking and stirring.
6. Boil the spaghetti until it is al dente. Drain it, and put it in the pan with the sauce. Cook, while turning, for and additional 2 minutes. ( this is why it must be taken out of the water al dente)
7. Add the arugula leaves to the pasta and sauce just prior to serving so that it does not lose its flavor in the cooking process.
8. Serve hot, with a drizzle of olive oil to further enhance the flavors in the dish. NOTE: In Italy, they do not use grated Italian cheese on fish sauces or sauces made with fresh tomatoes. This was new to us, but I came to understand and enjoy it without cheese.
9. Don’t forget the “love!”