Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Napoli, Music and Potatoes

Fig.1. Antonio De Curtis, in the role of Toto. De Curtis sang in many commedie musicali in the 1960's.

I had supper with an Italian expatriate last weekend. He began to tell me how impressed he was with the way in which the majority of young, Montreal Italians held on to the Italian language along with certain traditions, but, in the same breath said something that truly made sense to me: that we also need to hold on to traditions which define a culture. This Italian expatriate’s name is Enzo De Rosa, a music professor, composer and concert pianist. (Quite an exceptional one I might add) The traditions De Rosa is alluding to are musical ones; specifically, old folkloric music from Naples and the outlying areas encompassing Campania, Molise, and Puglia. So important is this music of old to De Rosa, that he has organized a concert entitled, 'O Paese D'o Sole', which will take place at the Leonardo Da Vinci center in St-Leonard. De Rosa will be accompanied by his wife, Isabelle Metwalli, herself a very accomplished soprano opera singer, and tenor Francesco Pellegrino, as they flow through a repertoire of old melodies from Naples; sung of course, in a very Napolitana dialect. Songs by Francesco Paolo Tosti, D'Annunzio and Antonio De Curtis--famous for his role as Toto--will be sung, along with some visual entertainment.

Artisan songs from Naples derive from operas, poems and romance songs known as romanza da salotto (salon songs). Singers, often referred to as cantautore, vocalized stories rather than songs, always in dialect, and always from the heart.

'O Paese D' 'O Sole, "Un appassionante viaggio nella canzone Napoletana tra melodie, immagini e poesia" will take place at the Teatro Mirella e Lino Saputo in the Leonardo Da Vinci center, February 25th and 26th at 8:00pm. For more information and to purchase tickets, call 514-955-8370

Fig.2. Very old and very Napolitana. The consistency of this dish is what makes it beautiful. That and the taste.

What De Rosa is doing with music I do with food. This dish has Napoli cooked all over it: rustic, traditional and fervently old school, Nonna stuff. Use any short pasta you have lying around for this recipe, if fact, in Italy they’ll often use several different pasta shapes in an effort to clean out small amounts of dormant pasta. This dish is unique because of the way the pasta is cooked, not separately, but together with the sauce. And don’t worry about cooking the pasta al dente here, a long slow simmer will release more starch thereby thickening the dish: mushy, gooey and very hearty, a wonderful example of Italian culinary ingenuity. This staple of cucina povera is a perfect cold weather meal. If, for some reason this dish has too much starch for you, might I suggest adding some bacon, the best protein in the world.

Pasta e Patate

Fig.3. Ingredients at the ready.

Serves 4

Extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium carrots, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2 medium onions, diced
3 large potatoes, diced
1 large garlic clove, minced fine or pressed
2 large garlic cloves, crushed and left whole
1 28 oz can of whole plum tomatoes with the juice, crushed by hand (you can also use 2 cups of homemade tomato sauce if you have.)
App 250g of short pasta
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped or torn by hand
Chili pepper
Salt and pepper
Grated parmesan cheese


In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the carrot, celery and onion and sauté until slightly softened but not browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and fry for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, stir well and fry for 1 minute. Add some hot water, (I boil some water in an electric kettle and keep it on standby) just enough to barely cover the potatoes, and stir making sure you scrape the bottom of the pot. Semi-cover and simmer (stirring once in a while) for about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, add the pasta and enough water to just cover the pasta, bring the heat down to medium, stir and semi-cover with lid, (make sure you stir a few times while it's cooking to prevent the pasta from sticking, if you need to add more water, just add enough to barely cover the ingredients.) Once the pasta is cooked, the potatoes tender, and the sauce slightly thickened, you're ready to eat. (at this stage the sauce should have thickened, if it hasn't, continue to simmer semi-covered until everything thickens and comes together.) Add the chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper. Serve in a warm bowl, sprinkle with some dried chili pepper, some grated pecorino cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

Fig.4. After you add the potatoes, cover with just enough water to barely cover the vegetables.

Fig.5. Again, after you add the pasta, add just enough boiling water to barely cover. At this stage stirring is important because the pasta can stick to the bottom.

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