Lidia Bastianich is a touchstone for my family. My dad and I discuss her on the weekends; he got two of her cookbooks a few years ago and started cooking elaborate sauces, making pasta from scratch, and extolling the use of pasta water. Don’t throw that out! As someone who is completely annoyed by tv personalities who refuse to scrape out their bowls, I find Lidia’s economy heartwarming.
If you can, you should watch her program on PBS. It’s on Saturdays, and often she cooks with various members of her family. Her grandkids are cute, her son is a somewhat laddish wine afficionado, but my favorite guest star is her mom, who never looks like she’s been summoned for an episode, but rather wanders into the scene unbidden for a glass of wine and a little plate of food. She prefers not to talk to the camera, and when she does it’s mostly in Italian. She just can’t be bothered. I love her. Lidia always ends the show by inviting her hapless viewers to her table, and her guests join her in this recitation with varying degrees of success. The kids are usually too shy to cry out “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!” (though I saw one of them say it with gusto last weekend). But her mom–her mom says it whenever she thinks it’s time.
Lidia: Now, we should really invite….
Mom: TUTTI A TAVOLA A MANGIARE!
The premise of this show is local Italian cooking–Lidia takes us to Italian regions we may not know, tells us what ingredients are common, shows some ladies making pasta, or shepherds wandering with their sheep, and then brings us home to her kitchen to witness her recreation of the area’s specialties. I am so into the show that I bought the companion cookbook, and I highly recommend it. Because she focuses on what people actually eat, there’s a lot of vegetarian dishes, and many of the recipes that have meat don’t feature it prominently. I mean, occasionally she cooks a whole octopus. But for the most part these are modest dishes.
As she says, this recipe has very few ingredients so they need to be good. The pasta should be farro pasta (though no one will mind if you make it with the regs). My mom says farro is basically the same as spelt so I’ve been making it with Vita-spelt spaghetti. However, their new formula is designed to minimize the spelt taste and appearance of the pasta–which is not good. Try to find a spelt pasta that is actually quite a bit browner than your usual spaghetti. The recipe calls for more than I can usually find in a box, so I mix together spelt pasta with Barilla Plus–obviously if you have more forethought than I do you should just buy enough of the right ingredient. It’s worth seeking out decent ricotta here because it’s the basis of the sauce. I find a local one at Whole Foods, but if you have a coop or cheese shop near you, try there. And if you’re itching for a project, have you considered making your own?
This is Glenn’s favorite pasta. Try it.
Farro Pasta with Arugula and Ricotta
from Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy, adapted hardly at all
4 oz. baby arugula (or big arugula, washed, spun, and chopped)
1 lb. farro (spelt) pasta, preferably spaghetti or ziti
6 T olive oil, divided (at least 2 T of your best stuff for adding at the end)
1.5-2 C whole-milk ricotta (don’t do part-skim)
1 t kosher salt
1/2 C freshly grated pecorino or parmesan or grana padano or a mix, plus more for sprinkling
Boil water for the pasta and add a handful of kosher salt. Get the pasta in there, then start on the sauce.
Warm up 4 T of the olive oil in a big skillet over low heat and add the ricotta. Break up the ricotta curds with the back of a wooden spoon and mix with the olive oil. You want to heat the ricotta, not cook it, so keep the temperature low. Add your 1 t salt and some freshly ground pepper.
When the pasta is to your liking, lift it out of the pot and drop it into the skillet. Fish out as much as you can this way (big tongs work well) and start tossing it with the ricotta. If the ricotta isn’t coating the pasta, add pasta water in 1/4 C increments until the sauce is more fluid.
Turn off the heat and add the grated cheese, your 2 T of great olive oil, and the arugula. Toss well until the green just begin to wilt. Serve with more grated cheese.