Last week, I ventured across the bridge to visit the Bronx warehouse of Gustiamo, a purveyor of artisanal Italian foods sourced from small producers that continue to stay true to traditional methods. I purchased several bottles of new harvest extra virgin olive oil and a rather intriguing package of 21-inch candele pasta produced by Pastificio Faella, a family business that has been making pasta since 1907. Candele, named for the long, thin white candles once used in liturgical processions in Southern Italy, are extruded through bronze dies and dried for a whopping 60 hours at a very low temperature. Prior to the emergence of modern machinery that facilitated the cutting of smaller shapes, all tubular and strand pasta, including candele and spaghetti, were left to dry in long forms and broken into smaller pieces prior to cooking.
The charming founder of Gustiamo, Beatrice Ughi, informed me that I was the first person to bring home the slightly rough-textured candele and assigned me the task of creating an Abruzzese-inspired recipe for this unique pasta shape. My initial thought was to prepare a spring lamb ragu’, but when I realized I’d forgotten to defrost a package of baby lamb that I had frozen from Easter, I decided to consult the brilliant Encyclopedia of Pasta by preeminent Italian food historian Oretta Zanini De Vita for inspiration:
“[C]andele is considered more or less synonymous with ziti or zite [but] the latter is the term most frequently adopted by the modern pasta factories. In reality, ziti are slightly thinner. Candele are broken up for the preparation of some typical dishes, such as timballi or pasticci with a crust.”
Taking my cue from Prof. De Vita, I foraged my refrigerator and created a baked spring pasticcio (quite literally, a mess) of asparagus, leeks, tomatoes and a blend of cheeses. Buon appetito!
Pasticcio di Candele agli Asparagi
Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©
- 1 pound of candele pasta
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 3 leeks, trimmed, white and light green parts only
- 1 32-oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, crushed in the food processor or by hand
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 lb of mozzarella (I used what I’d characterize as a “semi-fresh” mozzarella. The texture and firmness were somewhere in between the processed Polly-O stuff and the still-quivering fresh mozzarella from my local Italian deli.)
- 3 large eggs (or 2 jumbo eggs)
- 2 lbs pencil-thin asparagus, ends “snapped” at their natural breaking point
- 1 pint of grape of cherry tomatoes, halved
- A handful of torn basil leaves
- 1 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Prepare Sauce and Filling
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Slice leeks in half length-wise and rinse under cold water to remove the grit. Dry with a clean kitchen towel and chop crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces. In a heavy-bottomed pot or deep skillet, heat olive oil over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add leeks and a pinch of salt and stir frequently, until the leeks are soft and caramelized, about 8 minutes or so. Add the tomatoes and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil (slosh the bowl that contained the tomatoes with a half cup or so of water and add to the pot as well). Reduce the heat to medium low and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, until slightly thickened. Turn off the heat and add salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, add the mozzarella and eggs to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture becomes a creamy paste.
While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Break each candela into four equal pieces. Add the broken candele to the pot and allow to cook for 5 minutes. (The candele should be very al dente since they will continue to cook in the oven.) Thoroughly drain the pasta and drizzle with a bit of olive oil to prevent them from sticking while you’re assembling the pasticcio.
Lightly grease a 9X13 ceramic or metal baking dish with butter or olive oil and ladle enough tomato sauce to coat the bottom. Insert an asparagus stalk in each candela and add the filled candele to the dish in a snug single layer, as pictured below, rolling in the sauce as you go.
Ladle additional sauce onto the candele layer until it is covered. Scatter half of the tomatoes and some of torn basil leaves onto the sauce.
Next, with a spatula, spread half of the mozzarella cheese mixture evenly over the sauce and sprinkle 1/3 cup of Parmigiano over it.
Repeat, layering again, first with the asparagus-filled candele, followed by the tomato sauce, then the tomatoes and basil and then the remaining mozzarella and another 1/3 cup of Parmigiano. Add a final thin layer of sauce and sprinkle the remaining Parmigiano on top.
Place the tray in the middle rack of the oven and allow to bake for about 35 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and the top of the pasticcio forms a nice golden crust. Remove from the oven and let “rest” for about 10 minutes prior to cutting. To serve, cut along the length of the candele, into rectangular servings consisting of two layers of six or so candele .
Ordering Information: You can order Faella candele and other exemplary Italian products at http://www.gustiamo.com.
Tagged: asparagus, baked pasta, candele, Encyclopedia of Pasta, Faella, Food history, Gragnano, Gustiamo, IGP status, Italy, leeks, mozzarella, Naples, Oretta Zanini De Vita, Pasta, pasticcio, Recipe, Southern Italy, spring recipe, Tomatoes, ziti