July in Italy is jammed, stuffed, filled with fresh vegetables of a quality that may be equaled elsewhere but is never surpassed in my experience. Where I live in Central Italy the market is splendid, but it is sparse compared to some other regions where supermarkets aren’t so available. I gave up counting supermarkets here after twelve. We like our food and we want to know where it comes from. We like to handle it, smell it and check one source against another. If we can buy it just a few feet from the trees or the fields, that’s just the absolute best. There are innumerable housewives who still shop every single day to get the freshest they can.
The Italian flag (bandiera) red and green colors of this dish of pasta were grown in Puglia for the peppers and a village of my community for the tomato. The garlic came from Sicily. There was also cheaper garlic from China, but I am reading the provenance labels nowadays and I really can’t see why I would buy garlic from China when so much of it is grown here. I think the difference in price was 15 cents, and I can afford to support Italian farmers for that kind of money. The peppers were €1 per kilo and the tomatoes €1.50 per kilo. If I had weighed what I used I could give you some useful information about what this dish of pasta costs to make, but I didn’t. It’s cheap, take my word for it. It cost less than €1 per person. The wine was less than €2 per bottle, too. I don’t dwell on these things, but it’s second nature to me to be practical about food costs, and although I wouldn’t eat something that tasted bad just because it was cheap, I really am happy when I find something that is cheap and also tastes good.
The pasta is an experiment. It may be called sciallatelli, no one here seems really sure. More and more of us are paying attention to the details of how pasta is made and to that end, there is more and more information about it. If you ever find yourself with free time in Rome, go to the Pasta Museum and get an education about how pasta was made when Italy’s pasta ruled the world. It was made mostly of a specific wheat imported from southern Russia. It was extruded from bronze shapers and it was air dried. I know I have talked several times before about buying pasta made in Gragnano if you find it. They make pasta the old fashioned way in Gragnano, and they have also been reverse breeding wheat to get back to that wheat of yesteryear with extraordinary results. When I started talking about it I was practically the only one speaking about it in Englisht. Now everyone is buzzing about it. And because the words attract customers, other companies are picking up on them and making pasta that may be described with at least one of them. This pasta has been extruded through bronze. It’s so experimental that the packaging is generic and has no information about what the shape is called or how long it needs to be cooked. It was offered in several traditional but not very usual shapes in a single grocery store at a sale price of 89 cents per half kilo, which is not awfully cheap but is cheap for anything “special” in pasta.
These peppers are called friggitelle, and the pepper most like them in the United States is the Cubanelle. The difference between this pepper and the ordinary green pepper is how thin the walls are. That makes them ideal for frying, because they are cooked before the outsides are burned black. The tomato is a big salad or slicing tomato cut into chunks.
This was meant to be a quick dish—fast food in fact. It ended up taking 20 minutes because the pasta takes a very long time to cook. That information was not on the package and I resented having to test and test and test again for over 17 minutes to reach al dente, and when I say al dente I mean very al dente. I took it off the heat as soon as the texture was no longer cardboardy. The chances are you are not going to have this problem with your pasta, because you will sensibly buy pasta with less charisma and more information.
Was it good? Yes, it was very good and the strangely curly and elongated shape of the pasta was well adapted to the strips of pepper. The delay in having pasta to toss into the vegetables didn’t wreck the vegetables, but instead the oil thickened up nicely and coated the pasta better than usual.
Pasta la Bandiera (Pasta with peppers and tomato)
Heat a large amount of water to a full boil. Add a big spoonful of salt and 100 grams or less of the pasta you are using.
3 friggitelle or similar thin-walled green pepper
2 cloves garlic peeled and sliced
1 ripe salad tomato, cut into chunks
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
a good pinch of cayenne pepper or peperoncino in polvere
Wash the peppers, then remove the stem and core and cut into strips about half the length of the pepper.
In a wide frying pan, heat the oil and add the garlic and pepper strips. Sauté them slowly over low heat, being careful to get them cooked without burning them. When they start to brown a bit, add a ladle—about ½ cup or 125 ml of the pasta water to the pan and let it simmer away.
A few minutes before the pasta will be done, add the cayenne/peperoncino and the tomato chunks and stir it all about. The tomatoes should just start to collapse, but not really cook through.
Drain the pasta and toss it into the vegetables, stirring it in so that it picks up all of the flavored oil, then scrape it into a pasta bowl. I do not think this pasta wants to be eaten with cheese, but you may want the option.
I think I will send this off to Presto Pasta Night which this week is hosted by Sidewalk Shoes! She still hasn’t revealed, as far as I know, what her name means, but she does make a lot of pasta.