(photo credit: courtesy)
In classic Italian menus, pasta has a place of honor as a separate course. At
the family dinners of Lisa Caponigri, author of Whatever Happened to Sunday
Dinner?, meals were served in the Italian tradition: “an antipasto (usually a
crostini, [toast with a savory topping] to pass at the table), a primo (first
course: this is almost always a pasta...), a secondo (call it the main course)
served with a single contorno (side dish), and finally, dessert.”
reason to serve pasta before the main course has been frugality. When Caponigri
cooked with her grandmother, she heard stories of the Sicilian family’s hard
life. Their economical dishes like spaghetti with anchovies and bread crumbs
were “delicious, satisfying and easy to prepare.”
In Caponigri’s book of
menus for a year of Sunday dinners, hearty pasta dishes like lasagne baked with
meat ragu are followed by a main course of chicken or meat.
dishes with vegetable- or fish-based sauces are often served before a fish
entree. The Sicilian spaghetti with anchovy sauce is preceded by red pepper
aioli on toast. Following the spaghetti, Caponigri serves sole roll-ups made of
sole fillets baked with garlic and parsley and moistened with brown butter
heated with green onions, lemon zest and red pepper flakes. Next come artichokes
with a garlic parsley filling, and a rumflavored orange cake for
For a light summer menu, Caponigri prepares pasta Ligurian
style, with pesto, green beans and potatoes. It is followed by chicken milanese,
which resembles schnitzel, and a zucchini side dish. Her pasta with mushroom
sauce is followed by roasted meat with fennel, and for dessert, cherries in
PASTA HAS always been a favorite food of Monique Deschaine, and
so she created the company Al Dente Pasta. From Italian pasta expert Marcella
Hazan she learned “the importance of rolling out the dough, just like an Italian
grandmother, in order to achieve a ‘tender, but firm’ homemade taste and
To prepare three-minute pasta, Deschaine combines cooked pasta
with Greek feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, arugula, olive oil and walnuts. When
she learned that turmeric enhances memory, she created a dish called “memorable
pasta,” a combination of turmeric-roasted cauliflower, red onion and carrots
with whole wheat pasta and favorite Italian flavors – Parmesan, olive oil,
Italian (flat-leaf) parsley and a garnish of toasted pine nuts.
Italian chefs, both Caponigri and Deschaine heat the just-cooked pasta in the
sauce together with a little of the pasta’s cooking liquid. This is a useful
technique for preventing dry pasta dishes, and is better from a nutritional
standpoint than adding extra oil or butter.
Faye Levy is the author of
SPAGHETTINI WITH EGGPLANT, PEPPERS AND PARMESAN
This recipe, from my book
Sensational Pasta, combines pasta and vegetables with favorite Mediterranean
ingredients – olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and basil. If you like, add black
olives and capers along with or instead of the cheese. You can make it with
other long pasta shapes, such as linguine, vermicelli or spaghetti.
4 servings as a first course or side dish.
225 gr. (8 ounces) small
2 sweet green or red peppers, or of each
5 to 7 Tbsp. extra-virgin
olive oil Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 large garlic cloves, minced
350 gr. (12 ounces) ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped (see Note below); or
11⁄4 cups drained chopped canned tomatoes
225 gr. (8 ounces) spaghettini
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1⁄4 cup thin strips of fresh basil leaves
freshly grated Parmesan cheese (for serving)
Cut eggplants in crosswise slices
about 6 mm. (1⁄4 inch) thick. Cut peppers in strips.
Heat 2 tablespoons
oil in a large skillet over medium- high heat. Add eggplant, quickly sprinkle
with salt and pepper and saute about 2 minutes per side or until tender when
pierced with a fork. Transfer to a plate. Add 2 tablespoons oil to skillet and
heat over medium heat. Add peppers and saute about 10 minutes or until tender.
Transfer to a plate. Cut eggplant slices in half if they are large. Cover
eggplant and peppers and keep warm.
Add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet and
heat over medium- low heat. Add garlic and saute for 1⁄2 minute. Add tomatoes,
salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring often, about 10 minutes or
until soft and thick. Taste and adjust seasoning. Keep warm over low
Cook spaghettini uncovered in a large pot of salted boiling water
over high heat, separating strands occasionally with a fork, about 7 minutes or
until tender but firm to the bite. Drain well, reserving 1⁄2 cup of the cooking
Add pasta to skillet of tomato sauce and heat gently, adding 2 or
3 tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid. Reserve a few eggplant slices,
pepper strips and basil strips for garnish. Add remaining eggplant and peppers
to pasta and toss. If pasta is too dry, add more of the cooking liquid or add 1
or 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add Parmesan and basil and toss again.
and adjust seasoning. Garnish with reserved eggplant slices, pepper strips and
basil strips. Serve with Parmesan.
Note: To peel tomatoes, cut green
cores from tomatoes, turn each tomato over and, with point of paring knife, slit
skin on bottom of tomato in an X-shape.
Put tomatoes in a saucepan of
enough boiling water to cover them generously. Boil tomatoes for 10 to 15
seconds or until their skin begins to pull away from their flesh. Immediately
remove tomatoes from water with a slotted spoon and put them in a bowl of cold
water. Leave for a few seconds to cool. Remove tomatoes from water and peel with
aid of paring knife.
To seed tomatoes, halve them horizontally. Hold each
tomato half over a bowl, cut side down. Squeeze tomato to remove most of seeds
SPAGHETTI WITH ANCHOVIES AND BREAD CRUMBS
This recipe is from
Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner? Author Lisa Caponigri writes: “This
Sicilian dish shows the ingenuity of home cooks who learned to feed their
families well with limited resources. Leftover bread is transformed into a
flavor- packed sauce for spaghetti with the addition of anchovies, garlic, and
red pepper flakes.”
20 oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained 1⁄2 cup milk 1
1⁄2 cups coarsely ground fresh bread crumbs 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil 4
cloves garlic, smashed to a paste 1⁄2 tsp. red pepper flakes (approximately) 900
gr. (2 pounds) spaghetti 1⁄4 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley In a shallow
bowl, cover the anchovies with the milk and let soak for 10 minutes. (This
reduces the saltiness of the fish.) Drain well and finely chop.
small, dry skillet, toast the bread crumbs over medium heat until golden brown,
about 4 minutes.
Transfer the crumbs to a plate and let cool.
the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until
golden, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and discard the
Add the red pepper flakes and anchovies to the skillet. Mash the
anchovies against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon until a smooth puree
forms. Cook the mixture over medium-low heat for 1 minute. Remove from
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and
cook until al dente, 7 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving 3 tablespoons of the
cooking water. Add the reserved water to the anchovy sauce and warm over
medium-low heat. Add the pasta to the skillet and toss to coat with the
Transfer the pasta to a warm serving bowl, toss with the bread
crumbs and parsley, and serve immediately.
Makes 8 to 10 servings