Imagine New Jersey was an island, with tall mountains separating alluvial valleys filled with farmland baked by the sun, and surrounded by warm waters flush with lobster, tuna and anchovies. And just like New Jersey, a lot of people speaking Italian. Well, fewer people, maybe just a million or so.
That’s Sardinia, after Sicily, the second largest island in the Mediterranean. Perched west of the mainland, Sardinia is famous for its distinct cuisine and wonderful wines. Look for Sardinian reds and you’ll find terrific sun-filled taste at really impressive prices.
While Brian and I have yet to travel there, we know the wines and now, thanks to Lidia Bastianich, we’re sampling the food. In her book, Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, the Sardinian chapter is a gem. This recipe, Spaghetti with Cold Tomato-Mint Sauce, will challenge your imagination. Imagine a sauce of tomato, mint, basic, pine nuts, anchovy, pepper flakes, and capers. What is it going to taste like? With most dishes, you have some idea of what the dominant flavor will be. Not with this recipe. There is a perfect balance of flavors here, so nothing dominates, everything contributes. True, you’ll think you have a taste of mint for a second, but that will fade and anchovy will glide over your tongue, until some pepper arrives.
This is a fabulous dish. Sardinia is remote, not wealthy, not highly developed. But the culture there makes every possible use of the native ingredients, from the land and from the sea. If you try this dish for yourself, you’ll soon be planning an entire dinner party around it.
Ah, and if dinner is your goal, all you need to add is a nice arugula salad with a balsamic vinaigrette and bottle of, naturally, Sardinian red.
Spaghetti with Cold Tomato-Mint Sauce
Yield: serves 6
For the sauce:
12 ounces ripe cherry tomatoes, about 2 ½cups
½ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
¼ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 small anchovy filets, finely chopped (2 teaspoons)
1 plump garlic clove crushed and peeled
½ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup small capers drained
For the pasta:
1 pound spaghetti
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 cup freshly grated pecorino (or half pecorino and half Grana Padano or Parmiagiano-Reggiano, for a milder flavor), plus more for passing
Fill a big pot of salted water (at least 6 quarts with a tablespoon of kosher salt), and heat to a rolling boil
To make the sauce, rinse the cherry tomatoes, basil, and mint leaves, and pat dry. Put them all in a food processor bowl along with the pine nuts, anchovies, garlic, salt, and peperoncino. Process until puréed, scraping down the bowl as needed. With the machine running, pour in the olive oil in a slow, steady stream, forming a thick, emulsified sauce. If serving now, scrape the sauce into a warm deep serving bowl, and stir in the whole capers.
When the pasta water is boiling, drop in the spaghetti, stirring and separating strands. Cover the pot, return the water to a boil over high heat, and then set the cover ajar, and cook the pasta until al dente. While the pasta cooks, ladle some of the boiling water into the serving bowl to warm. Scrape in the sauce, and stir in the capers.
Lift the spaghetti from the pot, let drain for a moment, drop it into the bowl, and toss well until all the strands are coated with sauce. Sprinkle over the parsley and grated cheese, and toss again. Serve immediately, passing more grated cheese at the table
Source: Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy by Lidia Bastianich