One of the loveliest days of my summer in Italy was a farm-to-table cooking class called Abruzzo Country Cooking that I co-hosted with some special friends. It’s remarkable that I only met Giulia and Emiliana on Facebook less than a year ago. Who would have ever thought that a few mutual “Likes” on a social media site could lead to intimate friendships across an ocean?
Born and bred in Abruzzo, Emiliana spent many years globetrotting. Recently, though, she had an epiphany, realizing that she knew other parts of the world more intimately than her own land. She vowed not to make another trip abroad until she fully discovered her native region. Through her start-up Abruzzo4Foodies, which recently partnered with ToursbyLocals, Emiliana offers guided enogastronomic one-day tours of small towns in Abruzzo (I joined her wonderful tour of the picturesque medieval town of Guardiagrele) that combine sweeping vistas with local, artisanal products.
Giulia, on the other hand, is a dynamo who married into Abruzzo. Originally from neighboring Lazio, she and her husband’s family operate a magnificent country house in Manoppello with 360-degree panoramas and a farm-to-table restaurant. She tirelessly and enthusiastically works each and every day to deepen her understanding of her adopted region and attract visitors to its myriad charms.
I posted photos and a recipe from Abruzzo Country Cooking a few months ago and my friend Sam Dunham just wrote a fabulous post about our pasta-making adventures on her new blog Midlife Mum. Only one very special recipe remains to be shared – Chitarra alla Trapettara, a bold, in-your-face dish consisting of homemade spaghetti alla chitarra dressed with piquant black olive paste, sautéed garlic, garden tomatoes and fresh basil.
I’ve come up with a version of the dish, which was originally conceived by Giulia’s local frantoio (olive oil mill), that utilizes sweet caramelized red onions to round out the strong flavor of the olives, as well as canned tomatoes (since it’s November). The star is a smooth and velvety Crema di Olive Nere that I brought back from Tocco da Casauria in Abruzzo. The success of this dish really depends on using good-quality, imported olive paste. If you can’t find one in your local specialty store, it’s quite simple to make your own. Buon appetito!
Bucatini alla Trappettara (A Modo Mio)
Recipe by Majella Home Cooking (inspired by a recipe from Frantoio Oleario Ranieri, Rosciano)
Homemade spaghetti alla chitarra is an obvious choice for this rustic, earthy dish. However, if you don’t have time to make fresh pasta, a sturdy cut of dried pasta works well. I used Delverde’s Bucatini.
- 1 pound bucatini or thick spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium red onion, sliced
- 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
- 4-5 tablespoons of black olive paste (See Note below)
- Hot red pepper flakes (for serving, if desired)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the pasta to the pot and cook according to package instructions minus one minute (the pasta will finish cooking in the skillet with the sauce).
Meanwhile, to a wide skillet, add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and set over medium heat until the oil is shimmering, Add the sliced red onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, over medium low heat until soft and caramelized, about 6 minutes. Be careful not burn the onions – you want them to release their sweetness in order to round out the olive’s strong flavor.
Add the tomatoes to the skillet, quickly bring to a boil and then, with a ladle, add 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Allow the tomatoes to bubble gently until the liquid has absorbed and the tomatoes no longer taste raw.
When the pasta is ready, drain well and reserve an additional 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water in a separate bowl. Add the pasta, cooking water and the black olive paste to the skillet and raise the meat to medium. Using tongs, toss the ingredients together vigorously to combine and allow to simmer for about 1 minute. Turn off the heat and serve with hot red pepper flakes if desired.
NOTE: If you’re able to find good quality, imported black olive paste online or in a specialty food store, then by all means, use it! However, don’t sacrifice the quality of the dish with a supermarket tube of black olive paste as it’s really quite simple to make on your own. Simply add 1 cup of good-quality imported pitted black olives (not marinated), such as Kalamata or Gaeta, to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse to a smooth paste. With the processor on, slowly pour ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil (or more if needed) until it has an even, creamy texture. Leftovers are great spread on toasted bruschetta.