Pasta e Patate is a recipe from a dear friend of mine. I met Francesca in Singapore back in 2001. I had heard glowing accounts of her Italian cooking classes and was eager to meet this culinary wizard. Francesca did not disappoint. Her kitchen was light and airy and her cheery disposition made all who attended her class very welcome.
Her classes all began with a history lesson about the region the dish came from, its importance and how it evolved, (if any) from then until now. Francesca’s obvious passionate interest in Italian food history and food traditions of her country, made her classes a treat to attend. I would always learn something interesting and new. If you think you own a lot of cookbooks, you haven’t seen Francesca’s collection – over 1,000! In 2004 her first cookbook, Pasta in a Wok, was published. A book full of her recipes that are easy to make, delicious, and ready in 15 to 20 minutes. She begins each recipe with a short story or history lesson preparing the reader for the dish. I especially like the message before the spaghetti alla chitarra con le vongole recipe:
Mamma is a very good cook, but don’t ask her for recipes because she never weighs anything and will answer any request for clarification with a meaningless “what’s needed” or “just enough”.
Although the following recipe does include measurements, it is a forgiving one where you can’t really mess it up – do ‘what’s needed’ – and be a bit like Mamma. Buon Appetito!
400g short pasta such as tubetti (I used De Cecco mezzi tubetti no. 63)
500g potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1/4 cup olive oil
100g tomato purée (or use 2 to 3 tablespoons Italian concentrated tomato paste)
Parmigiano or Pecorino, grated
In a large pot over medium-high heat add olive oil. Add onion, celery, and carrot. Cook until vegetables are tender then add tomato purée. Stir to combine and cook a few minutes then add potatoes. Stir and then add chicken broth – enough to cover and bring to a boil. Add pasta, cover, and cook according to packet instructions. Serve with grated cheese.
My copy of Francesca’s cookbook has a short note written on the inside page and is a gentle and fond reminder of my time spent with her: “I’m sure that you will enjoy cooking pasta for your friends and family and I will be with you, always, in your kitchen!”
The Culinary Chase’s Note: Make sure the veggies are of similar size to ensure even cooking. I had 3 leeks in the fridge and used that in lieu of onions. When adding the pasta, make sure there’s enough broth to cover. This dish should not be dry but slightly moist. Enjoy!