By Carol Dzadony-Mancini
I hate to break it to y'all, but don't let my last name fool you. I'm 100% Polish, through and through.
However, I do love cooking Italian food and have a desire to learn about all things Eye-Talian. (hee hee – Sorry, I had to do it).
“The Godfather” reference above? A tribute to my Polish father who LOVES Francis Ford Coppola's “The Godfather” movies and willingly would answer every one of my same questions every New Year's Eve as he started his nine-plus-hour Godfather marathon to ring in the new year. Every. Year. Still.
My bucket list is to travel Italy in its entirety, sampling food, culture and a way of life that intrigues me.
So, welcome, fellow foodies, to another exciting culinary adventure! Today, we're diving into the mysterious and flavorsome world of Italian cuisine with a dish that has intrigued and delighted taste buds for generations – Spaghetti all'Assassina (killer spaghetti).
Don't be alarmed by the name; this killer pasta dish is all about delivering a mouthwatering experience, not actual danger.
I recently made this dish for the first time for my friends and family at the campsite fire during my annual trip to Assateague Island, Maryland. You see, making everything on the fire tastes so much better. Now granted, I run the risk of a little sand in anything cooked in this method, as the fire pits are directly on the island sand. And, well, if anyone complains about sand in their food, they get to do the dishes. My experience over the years cooking in this environment has limited the number of sand disasters, but believe me, there were many. Cooking this pasta over the fire has increased my courage to try different dishes on the fire. Oh, I can't wait for next year's trip!
COOKING CLASS WITH CAROL
I suppose it seems fitting to make this pasta at the beach.
As with many traditional dishes, the origin of Spaghetti all'Assassina is shrouded in legend and folklore.
Some say it originated in the bustling streets of Naples, while others believe it was born in the quaint countryside of Tuscany.
My understanding is that it hails from Puglia – in a seaside town of Bari, Italy – that's in the heel for us McKees Rocks people – you see growing up, Italian families described where their families originated from based on the Boot of Italy.
Many Bari immigrant families settled in McKees Rocks around the turn of the century.
I can only attest to the friendly people part of the description. And of course, the food I ate at their homes when I was growing up.
Regardless of its mysterious beginnings, one thing is certain – the flavors and textures in this dish are nothing short of extraordinary.
Spaghetti all'Assassina, or "killer spaghetti" in English, derives its name from the delightful burst of flavors that "assassinate" your taste buds. The heart of this dish lies in its simplicity and the quality of its ingredients.
A classic Spaghetti all'Assassina consists of just a few components, but each element plays a crucial role in creating the perfect harmony of tastes.
Things to Consider
1. Spaghetti: The star of the show, perfectly al dente spaghetti is essential. Cook it until it's firm to the bite, allowing it to soak up the rich broth as it cooks.
2. Tomato Broth – a simple blending of tomatoes and water that will be used to cook the pasta on the stovetop. Think risotto-style cooking method.
3. Cherry Tomatoes: These little jewels add a burst of sweetness and a vibrant pop of color to the dish.
4. Garlic: For that unmistakable aroma and depth of flavor, garlic is sautéed whole or crushed (not diced or minced) in olive oil until fragrant.
5. Red Chilis or Chili Flakes: A touch of spiciness adds some pizzazz to the dish, but feel free to adjust according to your heat tolerance.
6. Fresh Basil: The unmistakable scent and taste of fresh basil leaves make this dish truly special. Add to the dish just at the end to lift the freshness of the pasta.
7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Use the highest quality you can find; it elevates the flavors immensely.
8. Salt and Pepper: Simple yet essential seasoning for the dish.
9. Grated Pecorino or Parmesan Cheese: The crowning touch that brings it all together. The sharp, salty notes of the cheese complement the other ingredients brilliantly.
10. Try other add-ons, like burrata cheese or green olives. Don't forget crusty bread!
3 - 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes (or buy whole tomatoes and crush yourself)
2 cans of water (from the tomato cans)
1-pound dried long pasta, preferably spaghetti or bucatini
1/2 to 1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
Garlic cloves, to your liking - I used about 10 or more, crushed to release their beautiful fragrance.
3-4 red chilis, or about 1 tablespoon flakes (more or less depending on preference)
4-5 basil leaves, ripped by hand
Pecorino Romano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh burrata or green olives (optional)
1. In a heavy-bottom pot, bring three cans of tomato sauce and two cans of water to a simmer.
This is the tomato "brodo"(broth) that will be used to cook with the pasta.
Reduce heat or turn off completely. Reserve for the cooking process.
2. In a cold, heavy cast iron skillet or pan, add EVOO, garlic and chilis. Bring heat to medium and begin to heat the oil. The chilis and garlic will perfume the oil nicely.
3. Add your dry, hard uncooked noodles to the iron skillet. Coat pasta with oil.
4. Slowly add one cup of tomato brodo at a time to pasta. Continue this method until the pasta is al dente. This step will take about 15-20 minutes.
5. A thin crisp and slightly charred crust will form at the bottom of pan. This is the essence of the dish; it is welcomed and NOT a mistake.
6. Add the cherry tomatoes to the skillet and cook them until they start to blister and soften, releasing their juices.
7. Tear the fresh basil leaves and add them to the pasta, gently stirring to incorporate the flavors.
8. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve your Spaghetti all'Assassina on individual plates or a large platter.
Top it off with a generous sprinkle of grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese. To elevate it even more I added a slice of fresh burratta.
Carol Dzadony-Mancini is a former resident of Stowe Township and currently resides in Moon Township with her family. Her hobbies include riding horses, skiing, crocheting, hiking with her dogs, and of course cooking for the people she loves.