As I’m cooking my way through the familiar tastes of my Italian-alpine childhood, I recalled that as kids we sometimes wanted french fries. Of course, this isn’t an Italian thing. So we were offered a version: potatoes cut like patate fritte, but pan-cooked in olive oil. The end-result doesn’t look quite as neat as french fries. But the taste is lovely. Now I found myself wanting to give this a try, updating it a bit with fresh herbs from the garden. I got started by peeling two large potatoes.
Next the potatoes need to be cut french fries style.
Since this is a grown-up dinner, I’ll also need some other food. I’ll be searing some filets of salmerino, the same fish I recently put on the grill.
And there’ll be zucchine and scallions, all of which looks fresh and lovely here in the mountains.
Now my cut-up potatoes go into a pan with olive oil. The tricky bit is that the potatoes are raw. This is also the nice bit, because it makes for a wonderful taste. But they need a bit of time, and you’ll need to alternate between putting a lid on the pan, so that they cook thoroughly, and removing the lid, so that they brown. Inevitably, some bits will overbrown. But the crustier ones taste lovely, so as long as you’re not after perfect looks, you’re fine.
Next I’m using an extra pan just to fry some herbs in olive oil, sage and fresh oregano.
And now it all goes onto a plate, the fried herbs right on the fish. I hope you’ll want to try these Italian-style, un-fried patate fritte!
Here comes another pasta dish, pasta with radicchio and prosciutto from Southern Tirol. This felt just right when, as it so happened while I was in the Italian mountains, there’s lots of rain and it’s chillier than you would expect in July. The meal is prepared in just a few minutes. But if you want it to look beautiful, give yourself time to cut up everything nicely before you do anything else.
This summer, I rediscovered a drink from my childhood: tap water with mint from the garden and slices of lemon. I put the carafe into the refrigerator for an hour or two, so that the water takes on the summery flavors and is nicely chilled before it’s served.
The rest is easy: cook the pasta al dente, the ingredients for the sauce go into a pan with hot olive oil, and at the end it’s all thrown together, with some finely chopped parsley added at the last minute.
Being home reminds me that I could easily eat pasta every day. I’ll start with a favorite: gemellini, a short cut pasta, with tomato and salami. I’m thinking of this as a version of spaghetti all’Amatriciana, a famous dish that originates in Amatrice near Rome. But spaghetti all’Amatriciana is prepared with guanciale, a kind of speck. The people in Amatrice care a great deal about staying true to the original. And my salami version departs from their recipe in more than one way. Still, to my mind the spirit of the dish is preserved: homey but fragrant. A dish that could easily feel a bit too homey, for all its hearty ingredients, becomes refined by just the right composition. To this end, you’ll have to take the time to cut up all ingredients finely, starting with carrots and onions.
The salami should be cut into similarly small bits, starting with slices which then have to be cut up further.
Once the carrots and onions have been glazed in olive oil for a moment, I’m adding tomatos. Today I use fresh tomatos, smallish and lovely. Plus, and this is an original ingredient, I’m adding a sip of white wine.
While the water is heating up, pasta not yet in the pot, it’s time for a tiny salad as starter.
Once the pasta is almost cooked, I’m adding fresh herbs to the sauce: parsley, oregano, and basil, everything finely chopped. As always, you want to wait until pretty much the last minute before adding fresh herbs. Dried herbs need a while to become soft and flavorful. In winter, when using dried oregano, it should be added early on. But fresh herbs lose their fine texture and their beautiful green color when they cook for too long. Patience, I’ve come to realize, can be quite difficult when cooking! But it will taste lovelier if you get yourself to wait.
Done! I hope you feel like having a bite.