Food of the Italian South by Katie Parla



U Pan Cuott. Photo credit Ed Anderson.

It’s personal for Katie Parla, award winning cookbook author, travel guide and food blogger who now has turned her passion for all things Italian to the off-the-beaten paths of Southern Italy, with its small villages, endless coastline, vast pastures and rolling hills.
“Three of my grandmother’s four grandparents are from Spinoso, deep in a remote center of Basilicata,” says Parla, the author of the just released Food of the Italian South: Recipes for Classic, Disappearing Lost Dishes (Clarkson Potter 2019; $30).

Katie Parla in Southern Italy. Photo credit Ed Anderson.


Parla is a journalist but she’s also a culinary sleuth, eager to learn all about foodways as well as to chronicle and save dishes that are quickly disappearing from modern Italian tables. She’s lived in Rome since graduating with a degree from Yale in art history and her first cookbook was the IACP award winning Tasting Rome. She’s also so immersed herself in Italian cuisine that after moving to Rome, she earned a master’s degree in Italian Gastronomic Culture from the Università degli Studi di Roma “Tor Vergata”, a sommelier certificate from the Federazione Italiana Sommelier Albergatori Ristoratori, and an archeological speleology certification from the city of Rome.



Matera. Photo credit Ed Anderson.


In tiny Spinoso, Parla and her mother checked into one of the few available rooms for rent and went to office of vital statistics to find out more about family history.
“We made the mistake of getting there before lunch,” she says. “You could tell they really want to go home and eat. They told us there were only four or five last names in the village and since ours wasn’t one of them, then we couldn’t be there.”



Caiazzo. Photo credit Ed Anderson.


But Parla found that sharing wine with the officers soon produced friendlier results (“wine and food always does that in Italy,” she says) and after leafing through dusty, oversized ledgers written in fading, neat cursive they were able to locate the tiny house where her grandfather had lived as well as other extensive family history.
“Thank goodness for Napoleon, who was really into record keeping, no matter his other faults” says Parla.

Katie Parla. Photo credit Ed Anderson.


Many of her ancestors were sheepherders, tending sheep, staying with a flock for a week in exchange for a loaf of bread. This poverty was one reason so many Southern Italians left for America. But it also is the basis for their pasta and bread heavy cuisine says Parla.
To capture the flavors of this pastoral area, Parla visited restaurants and kitchens, asking questions and writing down recipes which had evolved over the centuries from oral traditions.
Describing Rome, Venice and Florence as “insanely packed,” Parla believes that those looking for a less traveled road will love Southern Italy, an ultra-authentic region to the extent that in Cilento, for example, there are more cars than people on the road.




Spezzatino all Uva . Photo credit Ed Anderson.


“There’s all this amazing food,” she says. “But also, there’s all this unspoiled beauty such as the interior of Basilicata. And the emptiness, because so many people are gone, creates this sense of haunted mystery. It’s so special, I want people to understand the food and to visit if they can.”
For more information, visit katieparla.com


’U Pan’ Cuott’
Baked Bread and Provolone Casserole

Serves 4 to 6
1 pound day-old durum wheat bread (I like Matera-style; see page 198), torn into bite-size pieces
3 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
7 ounces provolone cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 teaspoon peperoni cruschi powder or sweet paprika
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon peperoncino or red pepper flakes
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt

Overview:
In Bernalda, a town in Basilicata best known as the ancestral village of Francis Ford Coppola, there are many ancient bread traditions. The town isn’t far from the durum wheat fields of the Murgia plateau and the famous bread towns Matera and Altamura. One of the town’s classic dishes is ’u pan’ cuott’ (Bernaldese dialect for pane cotto, “cooked bread”). Families would bake stale slices of Bernalda’s enormous 3-kilogram loaves with whatever food scraps they could find, resulting in a savory, delicious bread casserole bound by gooey bits of melted provolone. Use the crustiest durum bread you can find or bake.
Method:
Preheat the oven to 475°F with a rack in the center position.
Place the bread in a colander, rinse with warm water, and set aside to soften. The bread should be moistened but not sopping wet.
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, provolone, peperoni cruschi, garlic, oregano, peperoncino, and ¼ cup of the olive oil. Season with salt.
When the bread crusts have softened, squeeze out any excess liquid and add the bread to the bowl with the tomato mixture. Stir to combine.
Grease a baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, pour in the tomato mixture, and drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil on top. Bake until the top is heavily browned, and the provolone has melted, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.
Spezzatino all’Uva
Pork Cooked with Grapes

Serves 6 to 8
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, salted and cut into 2-inch cubes
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 cup dry red wine (I like Aglianico del Vulture)
2 bay leaves
4 cups pork stock or water
1 bunch of red grapes (I like Tintilia grapes), halved and seeded

Overview:
The foothills east of the Apennines in Molise grow Tintilia, an indigenous red grape known for its low yield and pleasant notes of red fruit and spices. Each year, the majority of the harvested grapes are pressed to make wine, with the remainder reserved for jams and even savory dishes like this pork and grape stew, which is only made at harvest time. The slight sweetness of the grapes mingles beautifully with the savory pork and herbaceous notes of the bay leaves. Salt the pork 24 hours in advance.
Method:
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the pork, working in batches as needed, and cook, turning, until it is browned on all sides, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove the pork and set aside on a plate.
Reduce the heat to low. Add the garlic and cook until just golden, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, increase the heat to medium, and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. When the alcohol aroma dissipates and the liquid has nearly evaporated, about 2 minutes, add the bay leaves.
Return the pork to the pan. Add enough stock so the meat is mostly submerged and season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1½ hours more, until the pork is fork-tender. Add the grapes at the 1 ¼ hour mark and continue cooking until they are tender. If the sauce becomes too dry, add a bit more stock (you may not need all the stock). Serve immediately. 
Ifyougo:
What: Katie Parla has three events in Chicago
When & Where: March 19 from 6:30 to 9pm. Katie will be celebrating the release of her cookbook with her friends at Monteverde, 1020 West Madison Street, Chicago, IL. The cost of the dinner is $150 including food, wine pairings, tax, gratuity and copy of the book. (312) 888-3041.
When & Where: March 20 from 6 to 9pm. Katie will be hosting an aperitivo and signing at Lost Lake’s Stranger in Paradise, 3154 W Diversey Ave., Chicago, IL. No booking necessary, just come on down. Books will be sold on site by Book Cellar. (773) 293-6048.
Menu of five cocktails from the book, $12.
Three small plates (two pastas from Pastificio di Martino and olive oil poached tuna, endive and olives) from Chef Fred Noinaj, $12-15.
When & Where: March 21 from 6 to 7:30pm. Katie will host an aperitivo and sign books, which will be available for purchase at Bonci Wicker Park, 1566 N Damen Ave., Chicago, IL. (872) 829-3144.

Katie Parla Brings Rome to Chicago

Tasting Rome Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City (Clarkson Potter 2016; $30).

“A lot of what I do is covering the lost or disappearing foods in Rome,” says Parla, a writer, blogger and certified sommelier who earned a master’s degree in Italian gastronomic culture from Università degli Studi di Roma “Tor Vergata”. “Food in every city is evolving as is the way we eat and in Rome that comes about with the change in family structure and such factors as their very high unemployment, very low wages, and a high cost of living. Women are working now and there’s not the time for long complex dishes which take hours to make. There’s a myth that there are no bad meals in Rome but there’s terrible food here.”

But, continues Parla who will be at Monteverde in Chicago on May 16 cooking from her book, there are also innovations and improvements as well. Farmers’ markets are opening up, some places still serve the classic dishes and chefs are evolving in how they make classic dishes, turning them into lighter fare.

“Rome continues to be an important place for food,” says Parla, noting that she just celebrated her 13th year of living in Rome where she moved after graduating from Yale.

Parla takes an intense interest in delving deep into the city’s culinary roots discovering fascinating microcosms such as how the recent influx of Libyan Jews is impacting long established Jewish-Roman cuisine.

“The firKatie_Parla_TastingRome_creditRickPoon_Fotorst Jews came to Rome about 2000 years ago,” she says. “A decade or so ago, thousands of Jews left Libya and because of the Colonial relationships between Rome and Libya there were all these people who brought the Libyan Jews to Rome and housed them. Now there are about 4500 Libyan Jews in Rome and about 13,000 Jews in Rome altogether so it’s a pretty large faction of a small group. Many Libyan Jews own restaurants in the Jewish quarter, so you’ll find their richly flavored and spicy foods different than local Jewish classics like deep fried artichokes, pezzeti fritti–battered and deep fried vegetables, aliciotti con l’indivia which are anchovies with endive. It’s a fascinating turn in Roman food.”

Though drinking in Rome and in Italy seems synonymous with wine, there’s also an emerging cocktail culture too that was important to include in her book says Parla.

When asked to recommend recipes in Tasting Rome for beginners, Parla says that Involtini di Manzo or beef rolls—slices of rump roasts layered with prosciutto and julienned carrots and celery and braised in a tomato and white wine sauce–are a delicious and simple one pot meal.

“Recipes when taken together with the culture and the history tell the complete story,” says Parla who offers as an example cacio e pepe, Roman pasta dish using ingredients that stretch back millenniums.

“Cacio is the local Roman dialect word for Pecorino Romano, a sheep’s milk cheese made in the region since ancient times,” she writes in her explanation of the recipe citing the dish’s provenance.

“Pepe (pepper) was an important ingredient in Roman cuisine as it was super valuable spice stretching back into Roman antiquity and was a symbol of Rome,” says Parla, expanding on the subject as we chatted on the phone. “During the Renaissance it was the symbol of nobility.”

Parla also offers advice to ensure the sauce is perfect—not to dry nor soupy.

“Finely grated Pecorino Romano and very hot water are essential to a smooth sauce, while fresh, coarsely ground black pepper gives flavor and texture–the most important component of a flawless cacio e pepe, however, is speed because if the water cools before melting the cheese, the sauce will clump,” she says noting that they adapted the recipe made by Leonardo Vignoli’s at Cesare al Casaletto for home cooks.

“Wherever you are when you cook with the Roman spirit which is cooking simply with fresh ingredients,” she says, “Then the food speaks for its self.”

Follow Parla at katieparla.com/blog

Cacio e pepe di Leonardo Vignoli

Servings: 4 to 6

Sea salt

1 pound spaghetti or tonnarelli

2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Salt the water. When the salt has dissolved, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 1½ cups of the Pecorino Romano, the pepper, and a small ladle of pasta cooking water. Using the back of a large wooden spoon, mix vigorously and quickly to form a paste.

When the pasta is cooked, use a large strainer to remove it from the cooking water and quickly add it to the sauce in the bowl, keeping the cooking water boiling on the stove. Toss vigorously, adjusting with additional hot water a tablespoon or two at a time as necessary to melt the cheese and to obtain a juicy sauce that completely coats the pasta.

Plate and sprinkle each portion with some of the remaining Pecorino Romano and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Recipe excerpted from Tasting Rome by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill.

Ifyougo:

What:  Kate Parla “Tasting Rome” Cookbook Dinner

When: May 16, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Monteverde, 1020 West Madison Street, Chicago Il

Cost: $120 includes dinner, wine, a copy of the cookbook, tax and gratuity.

FYI: (312) 888-3041

 

 

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