In any small town in the southern Italian region of Puglia, you’ll see groups of teenagers, grandmothers and babies, couples young and old – everyone – out in the piazza or walking the streets until the wee hours of the morning. It’s too hot during the day to do much socializing, and besides, everything’s closed.
Needless to say, dinner in Puglia is a late affair. After a late start, a few hours at the beach (see below), a late lunch (see even more below), a leisurely nap, and an equally as leisurely trip to the local shops (which close at 1 pm and don’t reopen until 5 or 6 pm), we usually end up at the table around 10 or 11 pm.
But that’s just fine with us. If we’re not going to our secret local trattoria for fave e cicoria, Torre Santa Sabina for the fish or Cisternino for the grilled meats, we’re most likely at home tucking into big bowls of fresh pasta and lots of local rosato wine.
This dish, one of my favorite summer pastas, was inspired one of those evenings when, sun drunk from the day, we had to feed lots of discerning (read: local) guests on short notice. It was received well and has since been recreated countless time for ourselves and guests.
I hope you try it and it comes to invoke in you what it does in me: summer nights with good food, good wine and good company.
Pasta crudaiola (Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes)
This takes no time at all, just enough for the water to boil and the pasta to cook. These amounts serve about 4, but feel free to play around with quantities. I’d serve this with a lovely, chilled rosé or rosato.
extra virgin olive oil
lots of cherry tomatoes (5 pints for 4 servings), halved
a large handful of fresh basil (or arugula)
1 cup cacioricotta or ricotta salata cheese, grated
small pasta (orecchiette work especially well; fresh, eggless pasta would work even better)
Put on a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. In another large pot, heat a goodly amount of olive oil (at least 1/3 cup) over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the halved cherry tomatoes and cook, stirring every once in awhile, for about 10 minutes, until goopy and delicious. You want the tomatoes to mostly lose their shape, but you don’t want the sauce to be too watery. Add about half the basil, a quarter of the cheese, and salt to taste.
Meanwhile, salt the pasta water and cook the pasta until really al dente (you’ll be cooking it a bit more in the sauce). Drain the pasta or spoon it out into the pot with the tomatoes. Add half of the remaining cheese and all the rest of the basil, stirring really well over medium-high heat. Spoon into four individual bowls and top with remaining cheese and some basil to garnish.
ANATOMY OF PASTA CRUDAIOLA (Bollano, August 2008):