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Lello's Baked Pasta and Potatoes Irpinia Style - A Cheesy Pasta Casserole

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Lello's Baked Pasta and Potatoes Irpinia Style

Lello's Baked Pasta and Potatoes Irpinia Style

Lello Tornatore
I met Lello Tornatore when I went to Taurasi for the 2008 Taurasi Anteprima.

He's the man behind the Tenuta Montelaura, a fine Irpinian estate, and in addition to making wines he also has a keen interest in food, and shared a picture of his Baked Pasta with Potatoes on my Facebook Profile, a picture that led to a number of recipe requests. He has now posted the recipe on Luciano Pignataro's Wine Blog, and has very kindly given me permission to translate it.

"Like all dishes that have peasant origins this is," he writes, "born of the need to use absolutely everything one had. There was a time when throwing anything comestible into the trash was unthinkable; the poverty Italians suffered after the War was so fierce that any food left over from the previous day had to be recycled. Then people simply reheated things, in the copper pot that Irpinians called la frizzora.

"With time people realized that if the dish was given more time it came out better, and then they thought to add smoked Caciocavallo Podolico cheese from Montella, and put it in the oven rather than heat it in the pot.

"And it is precisely the Podolico, which took the place of the most everyday Provola, which makes this dish different and unique. That and the strictly Irpinian origin of all the other ingredients. ;-)"

Obviously, if one lives far from Irpinia one will have to make do with what is available locally, but even with substitutions Lello's recipe will be mouthwatering.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 2 hours

Total Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/8 pounds (500 g) sun-ripened cherry tomatoes, ideally from Montecalvo Irpino
  • 1/2 pound (220 g) mixed pasta from Flumari (in the Province of Avellino)
  • A rib of Gesualdo (Province of Avellino) celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 pound (220 g) potatoes, ideally from Montoro Superiore (Frazione di Banzano, Irpinia), peeled and cubed
  • A Cipolla Ramata (coppery onion) from Montoro, peeled and chopped, and Lello insists it be ramata, not white or purple
  • 8 basil leaves from san Michele di Serino -- the basil, he says, that Irpinians "exported" to Liguria
  • A half cup of extravirgin olive oil, ideally from the Ravece cultivar
  • A dusting of Carmasciano Pecorino (One could use quality Romano if one had to)
  • 10 bits of Quanciale from Sturno (Guanciale is cured pork jowl, one could also use flat pancetta, and dice a single 3mm (1/8 inch) slice
  • A half pound to a pound (2-400 g) smoked Caciocavallo Podolico, cubed -- the amount depends upon your appetite and how cold it is outside
  • 2 quarts (2 l) vegetable broth, made as you prefer, simmering

Preparation:

Before the procedure, a note: Caciocavallo Podolico is a cow's milk craft cheese from the Irpinia region; it is firm, and fairly elastic when young, becoming sharper and more crumbly with age, and will soften when heated. Tradition dictates the forms, which are shaped like gourds, be made in pairs that are tied together with a string and slung over a pole to age, hence the name -- Cacio (cheese) (a) Cavallo, astride, in this case astride a pole. If you cannot find smoked Caciocavallo Podolico use either regular Caciocavallo or if need be Provolone from a small form (provolone forms vary tremendously in size, from small to enormous).

Returning to the procedure, heat the olive oil in a broad fairly deep earthenware pot. Saute the guanciale, and when it has begun to brown add the onion and the tomatoes, and after a few minutes the diced potatoes, celery and basil. Simmer the mixture as if you were making an "easy" sauce, and after about 15 minutes add the vegetable broth.

Bring the mixture almost to a boil and add the pasta.

Cook the pasta over a gentle flame, adding only a little more broth if necessary; you will end up with a very thick mixture of pasta and potatoes. I would add that you should occasionally give the pot a brisk shake, or even gently stir the contents, lest the mixture stick and burn.

To bring it to perfection, let it rest for 2 hours, then stir in the cubes of smoked Caciocavallo Podolico, and dust all with the Pecorino. Heat through for 15 minutes in a preheated 300 F (150 C) oven, and you'll enjoy the world's best pasta and potato casserole!

Food - Wine paring: The structure, complexity, and perfect balance reached by the Cantine Contrada's 2003 Fiano Di Avellino make it perfect for this dish, though one could also opt for a Fiano Minutolo.

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