I went on vacation just as my backyard romas and cherry golds were blushing from green to red, but it was hard to feel very sorry for myself considering I was headed to Italy, the land where tomatoes come in only one variety: extraordinary. I picked up most of mine on roadside produce markets in Sicily or from open-air market stands in Rome, still clinging to their perfumey vines and smelling like the sun. This photo was taken in the kitchen of our airbnb in Avola, a town just a few miles from Noto in Sicily and was the inspiration for an amataciana-ish pasta I made using prosciutto, parm, and a bag of busiate noodles that I bought at a market earlier in the day when I stopped in to ask where the closest pescheria was. (It seemed we were always looking for a fish store.) The guy who worked there was so nice, I felt I had to buy something and that busiate pasta, a classic Sicilian variety, shaped like long tight corkscrews and made locally, was what I grabbed. If I had been home, I would’ve shopped around and added more and more to the pot all Strega Nona-like — Chili flakes! Garlic! Butter! Peas! Basil! — but I was on vacation, and there wasn’t much to work with, and it was still out of this world and that is largely the point. Well, that, and guess what? When I got home, there were still some beauties hanging off the vine, as I’m sure there are in your gardens, too, so I would say that now is just the right time to try it out yourself.
Pasta with Tomatoes, Prosciutto & Parm
1 pound busiate pasta (or corkscrew pasta, or whatever the freshest you can find is)
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 thin slices prosciutto
1/2 large onion, chopped
8-10 cups chopped mixed tomatoes (or about the amount shown here)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (plus more for serving
Prepare pasta according to package directions, reserving 1/4 cup pasta water. Drain and toss with butter while the pasta is in the strainer. Place the pot back on the stove and turn heat to medium.
Add olive oil and prosciutto to the pan, and cook until crisp, about 3 minutes, flipping over once or twice. Remove the prosciutto to a paper towel, and chop into small pieces when cool. Add onions, tomatoes, salt, and pepper to the pot. Cook 8 to 10 minutes until the tomatoes break down a bit. Add buttered pasta back to the pot along with prosciutto and Parm, using drizzles of reserved pasta water as needed to pull it all together. Serve in bowls garnished with more Parm and freshly ground pepper.
PS: Our airbnb was a little dark, but one window in the kitchen in the late afternoon let in the most Vermeer-like rays of soft sun. Everything I took a picture of at this hour ended up looking like a Flemish painting, including these figs and parm, a little snack I recommend highly while chopping tomatoes and drinking a cold glass of Muscato Secco.
PPS: The prawns were purchased for the non-pasta eater of the house, the girl whose veins course with Sicilian and Abruzzi blood, the girl who has never liked pasta, but has sworn throughout a childhood of family dinners that she would give it a real shot again “someday in Italy,” which she did, and which yielded results I would not call promising. More on this grave situation at a later date when I’m in the right place emotionally.
PPSS: Full round-up on Rome and Sicily coming soon! If you want a teaser, check out my story highlights on instagram.