What is the first thing that pops up into your head when you think about the Italian food? It might be pizza for many or lasagne or Parmigiano Reggiano or risotto…to me is Tomato.
Snce I spent the first 14 summers of my life in Sicily, at my grandparents’ home on the seaside, I grew up mixing well the culinary traditions of northern Italy, when I was born (and still live), and that of Sicily, in Southern Italy, where my mother is from. These two traditions are very very different. The region where I live, called Piedmont, always had a tight relationship with France (good and bad once – well balanced through the centuries) thus the local cuisine is a mix of Italian and French tradition which created a unique set of local recipes and cooking techniques that has no rival in the Country.
Sicily instead underwent several dominations spanning from the Normans (from northern Europe), the Arabs and the Spaniards, thus the local cuisine is a good mix of all such traditions.
However there is one item which unites the whole Country which is abundantly present in every local cooking tradition: Tomato.
There are 14 varieties of tomatoes in Italy (and several sub- varieties). The best ones, from my point of view, are from south Italy, where the sun and the soil provide juiciness, taste and texture that has no rival worlwide. That is why several official recipes of the Sicilian tradition are based on Tomato.
My grandmother was used to teach me and my siblings how to cook, since she believed in an old saying stating “impara l’arte e mettila da parte” (literally: learn the art and keep it for the future). It’s a practical way to stress that you may never know how your life will evolve and everything you learn in your youth may one day come back to you as an asset. Todays’ recipe is one of my grandmother’s favourite as well as the tastiest pasta ever: Bucatini al forno. It is basically a baked pasta cooked directly into the tomato sauce which thickens and reduce so much that the surface of the pasta gets soaked with it….delicious. The recipe is simple and quick and perfect if you want to learn what is the actual perfume of the Mediterraneum.
Bucatini al forno (baked Bucatini)
Ingredients: (serve 3-4)
- 750 grams of tomato sauce
- 300 grams of Bucatini Pasta (they look like spaghetti but they are larger and with a hole in the middle)
- 1/3rd (one third) of a glass of Olive Oil
- 1 full glass of water
- 1 teaspoon of oreganon
- 1 tabelspoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 2 full tablespoon of grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese. (do not use any Parmesan here: it won’t work)
Directions (cooking time – 30 minutes)
Take a metal baking tray with high edges and pour the tomato sauce in it, add 1 full glass of water and mix with a spoon until it amalgamates well (it must have a very liquid appearance, thus if you feel it is too dense, add more water). Then, pour 1/3 of glass of Olive Oil into the tray and mix again (don’t use extra virgin here because it’s too strong). Add the oreganon, 1 teaspoon og salt and 1 teaspoon of sugar (the sugar is used to neutralize the natural acidity of the tomato), mix once more.
Put the tray on the fire, turn it on at low fire and bring to a boil. When the sauce start lightly boiling, turn off the fire and put the Bucatini, horizontally, into the tray and distribute them well with a spoon to avoid them glueing to each other while baking. (be careful to avoid burnin your fingers because the tray will be very hot).
While you do the above, pre heat the oven at 200 °C (392 farenheit)
Put the tray in the oven and let cook for approximately 30 minutes. Every 5 minutes open the door of the oven and with the help of a long wooden spoon, move a bit the Bucatini to prevent them from sticking to each other).
The perfume you will feel when you open the oven’s door will be simply delicious…that is, to me, how the mediterranean cooking culture smells like.
Be aware that cooking time may vary depending on the quality and the brand of the Bucatini you are using. Some have longer cooking time some are shorter, thus it will be up to you to actually decide when they are ready, depending if you like them “al dente” or softer. Based on my experience with several brands I would say that 20 to 30 minutes is the correct cooking time.
Serve them very hot, until the perfume of the oreganon is still intense. If you like, pair it with a glass of red wine, a pretty strong one. I paired it with a good Barbera D’Asti.