From the kitchen of One Perfect bite...Mrs. Salvino, Mama Rosa, lived in a bungalow across the street from the row house in which I was raised. She was a tall, raw boned woman whose severe appearance was intensified by the tightly coiled bun she pinned to the nape of her neck. If I allow my mind to wander, I can still see her standing at the stove stirring a miraculous pot of something or other, while wagging a finger at one of her five boys, who tried, but never quite got things right. I can also see her eight sisters, seemingly without homes of their own, squashed around the table in animated discussion that kept their hands as busy as their mouths as they solved the problems of the neighborhood. I also spy a small, very Irish-looking child, who freely wanders in and out of that kitchen to check what's going on. That of course is me. I was born at at a time and in a place when neighbors truly helped raise children. I loved them all and considered their homes mine. As I was pulled into their worlds some type of genetic magnet drew me to their kitchens and the food they ate. Mama Rosa's kitchen was one of my favorites and she, who was without daughters of her own, was happy to share it with me. That's how I learned about St. Joseph's table and how his holiday, always on the 19th of March, is celebrated in Sicilian homes.
St. Joseph is said to have spent time in Italy and was considered to be the patron saint of Sicily. During a period of devastating drought, the Sicilian people prayed to him for rain that was necessary to prevent a full-scale famine. When rain came, the people decorated altars and prepared a feast in his honor and welcomed all to the banquet table they had prepared. That table became known as St.Joseph's table and the food on it was meant for distribution to the poor. In addition to breads that were used for decoration, three foods became associated with his holiday. The first is the fava bean, which survived the drought and kept the people alive. The second is a pasta tossed with bread crumbs instead of cheese, and the third is a Neopolitan pastry, called a zeppole, which you can find here.
I want to share a simplified version of St. Joseph's pasta with you tonight. My classic version of Pasta con Sarde is more complicated, but if any of you are purists and would prefer to make something something more authentic, that recipe can be found here. For those of you who are short of time, but would still like to give the holiday a nod, why not try the recipe the recipe below.
Pasta With Bread Crumbs and Herbed Tomatoes...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite
1/2 large loaf country-style bread, crust removed
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves, chopped
6 large, ripe, Roma tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Balsamic or red wine vinegar to taste (optional)
12-ounces dried fusilli or other short tubular pasta
1) Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
2) Cut bread into pieces. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process bread, in batches, to coarse crumbs. There will be about 3 cups of crumbs. Spread in a shallow baking tray and toast in the oven for 1 hour, or until dry and crisp but not brown.
3) In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add bread crumbs and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes, or until crumbs are golden. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
4) In a glass or ceramic bowl, combine tomatoes and chopped herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add a splash of vinegar to intensify flavor of the tomatoes, if you desire.
5) In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook pasta per package directions until al dente. Drain well.
6) Transfer pasta to a warm, shallow serving bowl. Toss with reserved 1 tablespoon olive oil. Pour tomatoes over top and toss to combine. Add bread crumbs and toss again. Serve immediately. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
Cook's Note: Panko crumbs can be substituted for homemade crumbs. If you use commercial crumbs begin the recipe in step 3.
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