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Capellini with a sauce of anchovies, capers and fresh tomatoes ()

'Lidia's Family Table': Italian Food at its Best

Dec 8, 2004 (Day to Day)

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thumbnail Lidia Matticchio Bastianich serves up one of her favorite pasta dishes: capellini with a sauce of an

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NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates cooks pasta with Italian chef Lidia Bastianich — best known for her PBS television series, and touted by some as the next Julia Child — and talk about her new cookbook highlighting her traditional family style methods of home cooking.

From Lidia's Family Table:

Capellini with a Sauce of Anchovies, Capers, and Fresh Tomatoes

This recipe provides a good introduction to the quick skillet sauces and pastas in this section. Typical of these dishes, it's quick: the sauce itself cooks in 5 minutes in the skillet, and the capellini I've paired it with needs barely 2 minutes in the pot; when all is tossed and garnished, the pasta is on the table in 10 minutes. And it demonstrates how well a pasta dish can be created from common pantry ingredients when they are cooked and combined thoughtfully.

With its generous amounts of anchovies, capers, peperoncino flakes, garlic, and tomato, I can honestly tell you that this is the kind of pasta I love to eat. The flavors are strong and sharp yet balanced — staccato notes in harmony, to use a musical metaphor. In the recipe, I've given a range of amounts for the bold ingredients. If you use the lesser measures of anchovies, capers, peperoncino, and garlic, you will enjoy a distinctive dish suited for most people's tastes, what I call "middle of the road" at my restaurants. If you use the greater measure, you'll have the same dish I make for myself at home.

Incidentally, you don't need to use perfect summer tomatoes for this sauce. Even in winter, decent market tomatoes will work as long as they're not too soft. If none are available, you can make a fine sauce without tomato at all (just don't substitute canned tomatoes). You'll need more pasta water for moisture, but otherwise follow the recipe. Like all sauces, this one goes with many pastas. In addition to thin varieties like the capellini, presented here, I suggest linguine, spaghettini, or just regular spaghetti.

Remember to coordinate the cooking of the sauce with the cooking time of each kind of pasta. If I was cooking linguine that takes 9 or 10 minutes in the pot, I would put the pasta in first and then start cooking my sauce, reversing the sequence given in the recipe.

Prepping

Start heating 6 quarts of water, with the tablespoon kosher salt, in the pasta pot.

Rinse the tomatoes, cut out the cores, and slice them in half. Squeeze each half over a sieve set in a bowl, forcing out the seeds and juice; clean reluctant seeds out of the halves with your finger. Scrape the seeds against the sieve to extract any remaining juice. Dice the tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces — you should have about 1 1/2 cups total — and put them in the bowl with the strained juice.

Cut the anchovies into 1-inch lengths.

Prep and measure the remaining ingredients (vary capers, peperoncino, or even garlic amounts to taste) and have them handy to the

stove.

Making the Sauce and Cooking the Pasta Simultaneously

Pour 1/3 cup of the olive oil into the big skillet, scatter the garlic slices in the oil, and set over medium-high heat. Cook for 1 1/2 minutes or so, shaking the pan now and then, until the garlic is sizzling; push the slices to one side of the pan.

Scatter the anchovy pieces in the clear side of the skillet, and drop the peperoncino into another open "hot spot." Cook for a minute or more, as the anchovies start sizzling and melting and the dried peperoncino toasts, then stir and shake everything together.

Clear space in the skillet and dump in the capers. Spread them out, and cook for about 1 minutes, as they dry and start sizzling. Stir the garlic, pepper, and anchovies too, on their side of the pan, for even cooking.

Ladle 2 cups of water out of the pasta-cooking pot (it should be boiling by now) and into the skillet. Stir up all the seasonings and get the liquid boiling; turn up the heat if necessary. The sauce should fill the pan to a depth of nearly 1/4 inch (add more water if your skillet is huge). Boil for a minute or so.

Pour in the tomato pieces and juice, stir and bring to a boil.

Start cooking the capellini. Push the long pasta strands gradually into the boiling water, letting them soften. Stir, return to the boil, and cook 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, continue to cook the sauce at a rapid boil for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, then stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Finishing the Pasta in the Sauce

When the pasta is almost done — still a little hard to the touch and bite — lift it out of the pot with tongs or a spider. Let excess water drip off a moment, and drop the wet pasta into the simmering sauce.

Ladle in another cup of pasta water, raise the heat slightly, and start tossing pasta and sauce together.

Sprinkle on the parsley, toss it in, and cook, still tossing almost continuously, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the capellini is perfectly al dente and coated with sauce. If the pasta appears dry, ladle in more hot pasta water. If the pasta appears soupy, cook rapidly to thicken the sauce.

Serving the Pasta

As soon as it is finished, put portions of pasta in the individual warm bowls.

Sprinkle approximately 1 tablespoon of toasted bread crumbs over each serving — most of it on top and some around the edges of the bowl.

Serve immediately in individual warm bowls.

For the sauce:

2 or 3 fresh medium-size tomatoes (about 1 pound)

2 to 3 ounces anchovy fillets, chopped (1/4 to 1/3 cup)

1/2 to 2/3 cup tiny "nonpareil" capers, drained

1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried peperoncino (hot red pepper flakes)

4-5 garlic cloves, sliced (1/4 to 1/3 cup)

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Hot water from the pasta-cooking pot for the pasta and finishing

1 tablespoon kosher or coarse sea salt, for the pasta-cooking water

1 pound thin capellini, vermicelli, or other thin dry pasta

1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

1/2 cup dry toasted bread crumbs

Recommended Equipment

8-quart pasta-cooking pot

A 12-inch or larger skillet for the sauce and the pasta

Warm bowls for individual servings of pasta

Excerpted from Lidia's Family Table by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, Copyright 2004 by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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