June 27th, 2013

Pasta “Lecce”

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When Bill and I were in Rome last month, the weather–by Roman claims–was unseasonably cool and somewhat rainy. We decided, at a certain point, to rent a car and follow the sun. That trip took us first down to the Sorrento Peninsula, to a sleepy cliff town called Vico Equense. Brilliant sun, a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, Mount Vesuvius looming in the distance–it was a lovely place to be. After two days, the rains came, so we headed east over the Apennines and then south—way south—to the heel of the boot.

We ended up in Lecce, a beautiful city sometimes called “The Florence of the South.” Particular to the region is a sandstone that is easily carved when first quarried, yet hardens over time. Lecce is replete with its own form of Baroque architecture made from this stone. The structures, churches and building facades, exhibit a more refined sensibility in their exuberant ornateness.

Ten kilometers inland from the Adriatic, Lecce also has a wilder feel to it–and I mean this in the sense of less traveled, less touristy, less sophisticated. Maybe bohemian is the right word. The pace is very laid back. The vibe is very friendly and welcoming. Perhaps because of its proximity to Greece and North Africa, it benefits from a confluence of cultures.

We became quickly captivated by the place and the people. We stayed in the centro storico-historic city center, in a flat on the Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Within the piazza confines is an amphitheater, circa 200 A.D. On the perimeters are numerous coffee bars, gelateria, and eateries with outdoor dining, where you could just sit in the breezy sunshine and soak up the beauty.

Cars are not permitted in the center; we could walk the maze of cobbled streets and discover what the old city had to offer.

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In our meander, we found a restaurant that we loved: i merli
Contemporary in look, intimate in size, fresh and seasonal in menu offerings–it suited us. We snacked on delicious fritto misto di verdure–tempura-like fried vegetables, including the delicate zucchini blossoms—and petite mussels with pungent aioli. Bill enjoyed a risotto, creamy green with fresh asparagus, but we were both crazy for my pasta dish–a housemade tagliatelle tossed in good olive oil, sweet Sicilian cherry tomatoes, zucchini, mint, and ricotta salata.

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All of the ingredients tasted so fresh, prepared with such care and immediacy, that it was a pleasure to eat. It was that touch of mint that elevated the dish from something predictably good to something unexpected and wonderful. I knew that I would try to recreate it after I returned home.

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Rounding up the right ingredients would not be a problem: John and Tally at Fresh Harvest Co-op have their terrific Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and Zephyr squash, and fresh mint is everywhere! I located ricotta salata, the aged, salted, and pressed version of ricotta at Whole Foods.

But, making fresh egg pasta was another key piece.

I experimented with a couple of fresh pasta dough recipes–seeking that golden yellow I had been served on countless occasions.
In my research I found a winner by Lydia Bastianich, made—improbably–in the food processor.

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She calls it “Rich Man’s Golden Pasta.” Five egg yolks whipped with olive oil and water are poured into the processor already filled with flour and salt. I was skeptical–shouldn’t the dough be diligently hand-kneaded for at least 8 minutes?

But Ms. Bastianich knows her pastas.

The dough comes together in a blink.

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After you remove the doughball from the processor, just lightly dust it with flour, knead it 5 times, form a disc and seal it in plastic wrap. The dough should rest a minimum of thirty minutes at room temperature–and if it rests longer, so much the better.

I rolled the dough seven times—through settings 1-7 on my machine—before rolling it through the ribbon cut. The dough remained supple and elastic. It was easy to make, and easy to cook: scarcely two minutes in the boiling water.

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The flavor of the pasta alone was incredible, and the texture light. Yet, it stood up well in the toss of vegetables, mint and cheese.

The recipe makes a big batch of pasta–enough for 8. You can cut the dough into half, reserving the other piece for another pasta dish, if you like.

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“RICH MAN’S GOLDEN PASTA” from Lydia Bastianich, for Cooking Light
2 level cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 egg yolks
6 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Place flour and salt into food processor fitted with the swivel blade and briefly pulse, mixing the two together.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the water and olive oil.

Turn on food processor, and slowly pour, in a steady stream, the egg yolk mixture into the flour. As the flour absorbs the egg yolks, it will begin to form a ball. Once the ball is formed, cease processing. Remove and gently knead ( 30 seconds, that’s all) forming the dough into a disc shape. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough sit for a minimum of 30 minutes.

When you are ready to roll, remove the plastic wrap and cut the dough into quarters. Dust with flour, and run each piece through the pasta machine, starting with notch 1–and go through notch 7 before using the fettuccine slicer. Don’t be afraid to use a bit of flour to dust the dough as you work with it. You don’t want it to get sticky!

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PASTA LECCE
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 lb. “Zephyr” summer squash (zucchini works well too) cut into julienned strips
3/4 pint “Sungold” cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 handful fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 cup ricotta salata, shaved or cut into thin batons
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat a large pot or saucepan on medium and add olive oil. Add julienned squash and saute for 2-3 minutes. Stir in halved cherry tomatoes and mint. Cook for another couple of minutes and remove from heat.

Bring lightly salted water to a rolling boil and cook the pasta. The strands should only take a minute or two to cook.
Drain, reserving some of the starchy water.

Toss the pasta into the pot with the vegetables. Season with salt and black pepper, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Pour in the pasta water, tossing and folding, so that the squash strips become enlaced with the pasta ribbons. Sprinkle in the ricotta salata as you fold.

Mound into bowls. Garnish with extra cheese and mint. Makes 2 huge bowls, or 4 small bowls.

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes

22 Responses to “Pasta “Lecce””
  1. Denise | Chez Danisse Says:

    I just love that the two of you followed the sun, and your pasta dish looks fantastic.

  2. Kath Says:

    Ooh I haven’t tried it in a food processor before. I will next time. I have given up with my pasta machine though, too frustrating. I have reverted to my friend the rolling pin.

  3. JP & Lynn Evans Says:

    You continue to inspire us all Nancy, thank you so much!

  4. Michele | Cooking At Home Says:

    What a wonderful trip you both had! That golden pasta looks so delightful–this recipe is surely a must-make for me.

  5. Maggie Says:

    Nancy, I so enjoy your story-telling!!! I can picture it all. The pasta sounds wonderful! Makes me want to get in the kitchen now!!

  6. Heather Says:

    Your pasta dish looks like the sun you were chasing down, it’s beautiful! This is just the recipe I needed, a perfect summer dish. Thank you Nancy.

  7. Barbara Says:

    Wonderful pasta dish, Nancy. Nothing better than homemade pasta mixed with simple, fresh ingredients. Imagine the mint addition was a result of Lecce’s proximity to Greece.
    I’ve copied the pasta recipe…love that color.

  8. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Kath–I have never worked well with the rolling pin–kudos to you!

    Heather–this pasta recipe was far superior to my first trial. The food processor worked like a charm. So did all those egg yolks. This comes closer to the golden pasta we enjoyed in Rome.

    Barbara–you are so right—the Greek influence was definitely there.

  9. rhonda Says:

    Great looking recipe and I love the restaurant! Looks like they had a lot of great fresh seafood too! I’ve actually never made homemade pasta, but I may give this a go. Will have to resort to the rolling pin though.
    Thanks, can’t wait to hear more about the trip!

  10. fluffy Says:

    unquestionably greek influenced…gorgeous dish !

  11. Renee Says:

    Amazing. This makes me want to buy a pasta machine and recreate. It also makes me long for Italy. Mmmm….

  12. Tammy Says:

    I hate to admit it but I’ve never made pasta. I do have one of those terrific pasta machines that has never been opened and my grandfather’s drying rack. I must try this.

  13. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Tammy, it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I finally did it. It was fun, and much easier than anticipated. Go for it!

  14. Magda Says:

    You must have had a wonderful time in Italy. Should have gone to Greece too ;)
    Love your pasta dish Nancy. Very familiar flavors.

  15. Adri Says:

    Che bonta! What a glorious dish. Isn’t it something how the freshest simple ingredients come together to make truly magnificent and supremely satisfying food? And a fine extra virgin olive oil is surely the icing on the proverbial cake!

    This is my first visit to your site, and I will now be aaregular reader. Complimenti!!

  16. Teresa, foodonfifth.com Says:

    Nancy, what a great sounding adventure in Italy eating and sightseeing. What could be better than both of those things during the summer?
    Your pasta is very lovely…the color and texture…not to mention the finished dish. Magnifico!

  17. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Magda–If I’d had more time, I would have gone to Greece. But I suspect that will be an adventure all of its own, sometime in the future.

    Adri-many thanks for the visit–I look forward to exploring your site, too.

    T–not much could be better-can’t wait to see you and share our varying adventures in food.

  18. Wendy Says:

    That is a gorgeous dish!

  19. Beth Says:

    I haven’t spent much time in the south of Italy, and you’re doing a great job selling me on Lecce!

    Your pasta looks gorgeous – nicely done.

  20. Patricia Says:

    What beauteous bowls of summer pasta!
    I can’t believe how easy it is to make the dough in the food processor. Who knew?

  21. Juliana Says:

    Wow, homemade pasta…looks fabulous and so refreshing with the fresh veggies.
    I love the idea of following the sun :)
    Hope you are having a lovely weekend Nancy!

  22. Alyce G. Irwin Says:

    Special note: The exact proportion of flour-to-liquid needed for proper pasta dough consistency will vary slightly each time, depending on ambient humidity, flour moisture content, etc. Therefore when preparing the dough, you may need to add a little flour, or else a little bit of water, in order to get the right consistency for successful rolling and cutting.



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