recipe: Sicilian meatless pasta sauce - no need for vegetarian meat substitutes
Mary Bilyeu | Contributor
One of the most memorable books I've read is the late Vincent Schiavelli's Bruculinu, America, the actor's remembrances of growing up in Brooklyn with his extended Sicilian family. The depictions of the scenes, the characters, and — especially — the elaborate dishes prepared by his grandfather, a retired master chef to a baron, are vivid and striking. Vincent wrote beautifully and lovingly about it all.
So when he wrote a sequel, about his first visit to Polizzi Generosa, his family's hometown in Sicily, I had to read that, as well.
Both books contain many recipes, and the latter offers a dish with an inexpensive sauce designed to replicate one that contained costly meat. As Vincent writes: "In Sicilian, pasta cu sucu means pasta with a hearty meat-tomato sauce. In times past, this luxury was not available to poor farmers very often. To compensate the palate, they devised their own fintu (false) version."
And so, Vincent offers a recipe for a beautiful, rich sauce which doesn't contain any of the newfangled soy-based products now available for vegetarian dishes, or even any mushrooms that are often utilized for their "meatiness."
Instead, this very traditional recipe uses hard-boiled eggs - coated in an egg wash and cheese before frying - as an inexpensive protein to imitate meat balls. The golden, cheesy eggs are so unique! And the simple tomato sauce is very fresh and wonderful.
I not only love cooking, but I particularly cherish opportunities to learn about international and ethnic cuisines — they fascinate me. So much can be learned about people from their language and from their meals. As Vincent notes in his first book: "In addition to providing sustenance, (food) served to nourish our heritage. Food is, after all, edible culture."
Pasta ca Sucu Fintu
([PAH-stuh kah SOO-koo FEEN-too] = Pasta with Fake Meat Sauce. Doesn't it sound better in Sicilian?)
(adapted from Vincent Schiavelli's Many Beautiful Things: Stories and Recipes from Polizzi Generosa)
4 hard-boiled eggs
1 tablespoon + 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup shredded Pecorino cheese, plus extra for serving
1/4 cup chopped parsley
12 ounces spaghetti, linguine or fettucine
Peel the hard-boiled eggs and halve them horizontally; set aside.
In a medium saucepan, heat the 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat; add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper and sugar; cook until the sauce just starts to bubble
Place the 2 eggs in a small bowl and beat them. Place the 1/2 cup cheese into a small bowl.
Heat the 1/4 cup oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. One by one, take each hard-boiled egg half, dip it into the egg and then coat it with cheese. (The cheese won't adhere everywhere.) Place into the skillet, and repeat with remaining eggs. Cook 2-3 minutes per side until the eggs are golden.
Add the fried eggs to the sauce; simmer while preparing pasta according to package directions.
Place the pasta onto a serving platter, then top with the sauce and sprinkle with more cheese.
"In the traditional style," according to Vincent, "eat the pasta as a first course, then the eggs out of the same bowl as a secondo."
writes about her adventures in the kitchen - making dinner, celebrating holidays, entering cooking contests ... whatever strikes her fancy. She is also on a mission to find great deals for her Frugal Floozie Friday posts, seeking fabulous food at restaurants on the limited budget of only $5 per person. Feel free to email her with questions or comments or suggestions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You should visit Mary's blog — Food Floozie — on which she enthuses and effuses over all things food-related. And be sure to look for her monthly articles about holiday foods and traditions in the Washtenaw Jewish News.
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