She Called Her a What?

Danny Tedesco, Joe’s younger brother, is the black sheep of the family. He’s long on money-making schemes and short on work ethic. And although Danny and Joe get along—they really do love each other—more often than not, Danny is a bit of a thorn in Joe and Shirley’s side.

Joe springs it on Shirley that Danny and his new girlfriend are coming to dinner, and Shirley is not at all happy. She doesn’t want to cook for her loser brother-in-law and the latest bimbo he’s picked up Lord knows where. Unfortunately, Danny is family and must be welcomed. In defiance of the dinner party, Shirley announces that she’ll make spaghetti alla puttanesca. Joe questions her choice, but his strong-willed wife has made up her mind.

The elegant sounding dish is really quite delicious, and Shirley’s choice wasn’t altogether a bad one. If you aren’t familiar with the history of the dish and/or you don’t speak Italian, allow me to explain. Spaghetti alla puttanesca literally means spaghetti in the style of a whore. According to various websites, the dish was created in Naples and dates back to the mid-twentieth century. One legend says the meal was quick and cheap for prostitutes to make between customers while another says the robust aroma drew clients in.

I lean more toward the belief that Italians use the word puttana as an all-purpose swear word the way Americans use sh*t. It would be like saying, “I threw a whole bunch of sh*t into the pan and came up with this.” Reinforcing my opinion is the fact that I watched a cooking show years ago where the Italian Momma taught the host the meaning of, “I just sh*t.” Much laughing was involved, but Momma explained it meant to take stuff from the cupboard and toss it in the pot without the benefit of a recipe.

There are variations to the recipe with a particular ingredient omitted or added based on preference and locale. The sauce is traditionally served over spaghetti, but can also be served over linguine (as pictured above), penne, or bucatini. Trust me when I encourage you to use all the ingredients listed even if you don’t think you’ll enjoy them. I admit there was one on the list that made me hesitate, but ever since I discovered spaghetti alla puttanesca, I have come to love the simple, flavorful dish.

Shirley Tedesco’s Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

1 lb. dried spaghetti

Sea Salt

8 T extra virgin olive oil (reserve 2 T)

6 – 8 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced or finely chopped

8 – 10 anchovy fillets (packed in oil), finely chopped

1 – 2 large pinches red pepper flakes

½ c capers, coarsely chopped (press them dry in a paper towel first)

½ c pitted black olives, drained and coarsely chopped

1 – 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes with the juice (recommend San Marzano), crushed by hand

Minced parsley or basil for garnish

½ – 1 T Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, finely grated (optional)

Ground black pepper (I used quad-colored peppercorns)

Place the spaghetti in a large, deep skillet or sauté pan and cover with water. Add a pinch of sea salt. Bring it to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking.

In a medium skillet, combine 6 T olive oil, anchovies, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and cook over medium heat until the garlic turns a light golden color, approximately five minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the mixture sizzling without burning the garlic. Add the capers and olives, and stir to combine.

Stir in the crushed tomatoes and juice and bring to a light simmer. Continue simmering the sauce until the spaghetti is cooked to al dente (about 1 minute less than recommended on the package). Use tongs or a pasta spoon to transfer the spaghetti to the sauce. Reserve 1 cup of cooking water.

Add a few tablespoons of cooking water to the sauce and increase the heat to bring the spaghetti and sauce to a vigorous simmer. Add more cooking water as necessary to keep the sauce loose until the pasta is al dente (about 1 – 2 minutes). The spaghetti cooks more slowly in the sauce, and the starchy cooking water helps the sauce to thicken and cling nicely to the pasta.

Season lightly with sea salt (anchovies, olives, and capers are quite salty already) and heartily with black pepper. Stir in the remaining 2 T olive oil and parsley or basil. Some purists say that cheese has no place in puttanesca, but I find Pecorino Romano or Parmesan perfectly complements the dish. If using cheese, add it at this point and stir to combine. Transfer the spaghetti alla puttanesca to a platter or individual dishes and serve with more grated cheese if desired.

Enjoy!

La Cucina Povera

In the chapter of my novel, The Tedescos, titled “Soul Food,” the family attends church on Mother’s Day with their good friends, The Robertses. After the service, the Tedesco Clan is invited to attend a meal in the church fellowship hall. The men and boys prepared the meal they will serve to the mothers to honor them. Much of the food the Tedescos encounter is familiar, but one dish in particular initiates a conversation between Joe Jr. and Tabitha and Tonya Roberts and results in the explanation of ‘la cucina povera.’

The Italian phrase literally means the poor kitchen, and it is a style of cooking familiar among the lower classes (think peasants) of a particular society. Often, peasants had to cook with whatever they had on hand whether it came from the kitchen or the farm. The ‘poor kitchen’ can be found in every society. The great thing about this concept is that some really delicious recipes emerged from the simple, high-quality ingredients that were available.

Attempting to cook in the style of ‘la cucina povera’ may earn you a laugh especially from an older person who lived through the war in Italy. They may refuse to acknowledge ‘the poor kitchen’ style and argue that it was simply the preparation of the food they had on hand. Americans, with all their varied food choices and easy access to said food, have a tendency to romanticize a style of cooking that was a part of basic survival. Still, I can think of several recipes in which my family indulges that found their way into my writing because of my love to feed people whether real or imagined. Many cookbooks featuring this style of food have been published, and I highly recommend you try one or two meals from them if you’ve never encountered peasant cooking.

Beans and cornbread, cabbage and noodles, and soup made from some combination of vegetables are the types of peasant food I grew up with. I never knew that what we ate was considered to be from ‘the poor kitchen’ because the adults who prepared it for me cooked with love and made everything taste wonderful. Delicious, simple food is usually the tastiest, and in the end, that’s really what it’s all about. What does your family enjoy from ‘la cucina povera?’

Meet the Tedescos

As I prepare to query my novel, The Tedescos, I thought I’d better introduce the family to you so you’ll know who I’m talking about in upcoming blog posts for Research Road and Edible Fiction.

Joe Tedesco is the big-hearted, sometimes clueless, but always lovable patriarch of the Tedesco Clan whose primary job is to bring home the bacon and do his best to not muck things up too badly for his lovely wife, Shirley.

Shirley Tedesco is the savvy, stay-at-home matriarch of the Tedesco Clan responsible for keeping her husband, their brood of eight rowdy children, and her crazy mother-in-law in line. Hers is a difficult task.

Sixteen year-old Joe Jr. is the good-natured, oldest sibling with a love for sports, girls, and food, but not necessarily in that order.

Katherine, the second oldest sibling at fourteen, is a mastermind of manipulation who knows how to play her father for whatever catches her eye.

Thirteen year-old Ava Maria is the saintly, third oldest sibling whose limitless compassion extends to stuffed animals, overworked nuns, and anyone in need of prayer.

Holly and Noelle, ten years-old, are the pink and blue wearing Christmas twins possessing twice the sweetness or twice the mischievousness depending on what the situation requires.

Billy (age seven), Grace (age six), and Pauline (age five) are the youngest three siblings who work as a unit whether it’s planning or executing the next round of trouble they’re going to get into.

Grandma Josephine, Joe’s widowed mother, lives in the twilight realm between long-term memory and reality as she navigates her way through the golden years.

Danny Tedesco, Joe’s younger brother, is the unmarried, shiftless member of the family who is long on money-making schemes and short on work ethic.

Get Your Italian On

Below are three fabulous websites I used while researching food for my short story “Italian Cooking.” If you don’t want to visit Italy or at least cook something Italian after reading these then all I can say is, you’re not enjoying food and/or cooking to its fullest. I was ready to hop a plane for Italy and sign up at Academia Barilla. I have no idea how I would pay for it, but who cares?

Buon appetito!

Saveur

Academia Barilla

Wine Weekly

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