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Friday, October 1, 2010

Memorable Meals

This month has been a whirlwind of activities other than blogging. In that category we are not doing very well, but I am attempting to rectify that with a pretty awesome pasta that is conducive to the hectic lifestyle. On the other hand, reading the newest Saveur with its 25 most memorable meals makes my mind go back to a time when I couldn't conceive the impact of food on my life. I am not sure whether any of you have thought about your most memorable meals but mine goes back to around the age of ten when seventeen of my Dad's family would gather every Sunday after church to eat lunch at my great-grandmother and great-grandad's house. The spread seems so enormous to me in restrospect from the fried venison backstrap, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, green beans amply studded with country ham, steaming golden cornbread, an iceberg salad with garden tomatoes, mustard greens also studded with dark red bits of ham and garlic, crispy fried crooked neck squash, and plenty of ice cold tea and lemonade to go around. It seems unbelievable to think that we would sit down to a spread like that every Sunday or even sometimes Nanny's homemade deep fried taco shells just waiting to be filled with ground beef and tomatoes.

My love and respect of food has grown so much since then as I have realized the time and effort my eighty year old great-grandmother, Nanny, would put into such a feast. Since then I have eaten foie gras, duck prosciutto, escargot, and countless other delicacies that she probably had never even heard of. But the fact of the matter still remains that those incredible meals and every one in the future are always best shared with family and friends.

You might be asking yourself what a Southern man, with a rich heritage of individuals who were/are involved in small town politics, dairy farming, and steel and factory work, has doing opening a pizzeria. I have thought about that many times during the stages of planning and I think Frank Stitt of Bottega and Bottega CafĂ© in Birmingham, Alabama has hit the nail on the head. Italian cooking has a real kinsmanship with the Southern-American fresh ingredient mindset and sheer love of large family-style meals. I am still fleshing out some of my own embedded links between the two, but the more Italian/Southern food I prepare the more it feels right and I hope this dish rings true to you as well. No matter what your circumstance, food shared with family is one of the most elemental and extraordinary events.  

The other day I was tinkering around with a San Marzano tomato sauce and it certainly played an important part in the creation of the dish. Sometimes we are forced to be more practical than eccentric minded and often times it grounds me enough to create something amazing. Chickpeas also play a roll in this pasta venture because I had a can left over from purchasing too many for making hummus last weekend. Their versatility never ceases to amaze me and I am forever grateful. They are one of those canned ingredients that is every bit of as good as its dried counterpart.

Orecchiette works like a charm in this dish cupping the chickpeas and sauce as any marriage of pasta, ingredients, and sauce should. A hint of floral rosemary and a handful of diced potatoes thrown in while the sauce is simmering create a symphony in a flash. The porcine nuggets of Sopressata give that Southern/Italian umami combination that makes me feel right at home and hopefully you will agree. If you have a memorable meal you would like to share we would be glad to hear it. 

Pasta Sopressata

8 oz. orriechette
2 oz. sopressata, diced
1 C. homemade tomato sauce (mine was canned San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, and a few rosemary leaves)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 C fontinella cheese, grated for sprinkling
1 sprig rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 russet potato, finely diced
1/2 C reserved pasta water
1 pinch dried red pepper flakes
olive oil for drizzling

Begin sauteing the garlic and sopressata in a large saucepan. Meanwhile bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the orriechette. Cook orriechette three minutes shy of al dente and drain reserving the pasta water. Add the potatoes and chickpeas to the saucepan and cook together for another minute or so and then add the tomato sauce, rosemary, and pepper flakes. Once sauce has reduced a bit and potatoes are nearly done add orrecchiette and stir to combine. The sauce will be rather thick but add the pasta water by spoonfuls to make the pasta come together. Once the pasta sauce has reached the desired consistency taste and adjust seasoning lightly with salt and pepper. Spoon into shallow bowls or saucers and top with grated fontinella cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. This recipe makes enough for two or three but can be multiplied to be enjoyed with friends and family.