Recipe 4: Penne Norma:
Pasta and Wine, Part One
By Victor Rallo and Anthony Verdoni
Cacio e Pepe
Grated cheese and ground black pepper: it sounds simple. It is easy to make but difficult to master. We have enjoyed this pasta dish in Rome and Frascati and throughout central and southern Italy many times. Cacio e Pepe is centuries old. It predates the introduction of the tomato from the New World during the era of Christopher Columbus.
Recipe 3: Cacio e Pepe
1 pound of spaghetti
4 tablespoons of freshly ground coarse black pepper
½ pound of freshly ground Pecorino Romano cheese
6 ounces of extra virgin olive oil
Follow the instructions on the package for cooking spaghetti. I like to cook the spaghetti 30-45 seconds less then instructed to insure the spaghetti is al dente.
Cooking the spaghetti properly and retaining some of the pasta water is the key to making great Cacio e Pepe.
Once spaghetti is cooked, drain the spaghetti partially and save two cups of pasta water if needed. In a 16 inch sauté at medium heat add olive oil and toss in partially drained spaghetti. Now add grated Pecorino Romano cheese and coarse ground black pepper. Toss until spaghetti is covered with sauce. With a pair of tongs, portion the pasta into a deeper round bowl. Finish each bowl of Cacio e Pepe with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and shaved Pecorino Romano cheese and serve immediately.
The Romans prefer a chilled white, such as Frascati with this dish. We prefer the dry, satisfying Pallavacini Frascati Superiore. It is mouth cleansing, and refreshing and balances perfectly with this pasta dish. Try Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! or Casale Del Giglio’s Satrico, a blend of Trebbiano and Chardonnay. If you lean toward a red, search out a fresh aromatic, dry, young Cesanese from Piglio, Affile or Olevano Romano. If you want to be bold, go Chianti. Try San Felice’s Chianti Classico.
Pasta alla Norma
Think Sicilian. Catania. Vincenzo Bellini and his opera, Norma. Eggplant and Tomatoes! Pasta alla Norma is so wonderful that the Sicilians named it after the greatest opera ever written by their beloved composer, Vincenzo Bellini. Bellini lived from 1801-1835 and wrote Bel Canto operas for San Carlo in Naples, La Scala in Milano and for the Paris Opera. Like Chopin he died young but served as an inspiration to later composers. Bellini also inspired Pasta alla Norma.
Recipe 4: Penne Norma:
1 pound penne pasta
2 medium eggplants cut into ¾ inch squares
1 medium white onion diced
12 ounces Pomodoro sauce (see below)
4 medium cloves peeled garlic chopped fine
10 leaves of fresh basil julienned
4 ounces extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
In a 14-inch sauté pan add the olive oil and eggplant at medium heat. Cook the eggplant until it is golden brown. The eggplant must be soft, pick up a piece if should mush fairly easily in your fingers. As soon as eggplant is golden brown and cooked, add the chopped onion and garlic and cook for 4-5 minutes until onion and garlic starts to caramelize. This is where Norma sauce gets its flavor. Stir frequently so that the mixture is browning not burning. Now add the pomodoro sauce and stir into mixture. Cook for 4-5 minutes.
Add basil, salt and freshly ground black pepper, and chili flakes to taste.
Ten minutes before sauce is finished, drop the penne into the boiling pasta water. Follow pasta cooking instructions on the label I look to cook the pasta for 30-45 seconds less then instructed time to insure pasta is al dente.
Drain the penne and add the penne into the Norma sauce. Toss the sauce and penne a few times to be sure penne and sauce are integrated. Spoon into bowls, and finish with a drizzle of olive oil, a piece of fresh basil and a grated hard Italian cheese.
Continuing to think Sicilian, we recommend the white Rapitalà Grillo with its soft and supple style. As for reds, we like the Nero D’Avola, Sedara from Donnafugata. It has a deep color and is rich in flavor and style. It pairs perfectly with the eggplant and fresh tomato in Norma.
Amatriciana takes its name from the town of Amatrice in the region of Lazio. It is linked culturally and historically to Rome, where dozens of ristoranti and trattorie claim to have originated it. It dates back to the 16th century, when the tomato was first introduced to Italy. Before that there was a white version of the sauce, which was called Grigia. This blond variation is still made throughout the Eternal City. It is great fun to taste both Grigia and Amatriciana side by side. Ask for a half portion, an assaggino, a small taste, because these are hearty, substantial sauces. The pasta shape of choice is bucatini, aka perciatelli, but you can substitute spaghetti. If you are serving a large group, you may prefer to use a short pasta, which is easier to work with. We recommend rigatoni. The classic recipe calls for guanciale, but pancetta is wonderful as well. If you have difficulty finding either, you can use good old bacon. You will not disappoint. Be sure to use the best, highest quality ingredients.