Food of the Italian South: Recipes for Classic, Disappearing, and Lost Dishes, written by Katie Parla, features the unique, regional cuisine from Southern Italy with a delicious combination of historical recipes and more modern reimagined dishes. Highlights include Brodetto di Pesce alla Termolese (Termoli-Style Fish Soup), Casatiello (Easter Bread), Nucillo (Walnut Liqueur), Pizza con ‘Nduja e Fior di Latte (‘Nduja and Mozzarella Pizza), Insalata di Limone (Lemon and Mint Salad), and Raschiatelli alla Mollica (Pasta with Fried Bread Crumbs). I will also be sharing her recipe for Orecchiette al Grano Arso (Toasted-Flour Orecchiette) following the review.
Disclosure: I received this book from Clarkson Potter in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Katie Parla was born in New Jersey and graduated from Yale with an art history degree. After moving to Rome in 2003, she discovered a love for the food and earned a master’s degree in Italian gastronomic culture at the Università degli Studi di Roma “Tor Vergata” and a sommelier certificate from FISAR.
She now works as a freelance food and beverage journalist, culinary guide, and lecturer highlighting the local food and drinks in over 20 food and travel guides. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian, Saveur, Food & Wine, Condé Nast Traveler, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, Lucky Peach, Corriere della Sera, Imbibe, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Olive, Wine Enthusiast, National Geographic Traveler, Eater, Epicurious, Serious Eats, Food Republic, and more.
I also reviewed her book, Tasting Rome, in 2016 and shared a recipe for Panna Cotta alla Menta con Salsa di Cioccolato (Roman Mint Panna Cotta).
Food of the Italian South
Chapters are divided according to course: Antipasti (Starters); Zuppe e Minestre (Soups and Stews); Pasta (Pasta Shapes and Sauces); Pesce (Fish); Carne (Meat); Contorni (Salads and Side Dishes); Pane, Focaccia, e Pizza (Bread, Focaccia, and Pizza); Dolci (Desserts); and Liquori e Cocktail (Liqueurs and Cocktails).
Katie begins with a short introduction into the regions that make up the Italian south (Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, and Calabria) and her ties to the area. Tracing her family’s roots back to Spinoso in Basilicata, she became even more fascinated as she learned about their lifestyle and culture. I especially enjoyed the pages among the recipes with highlights of the people, regional ingredients, and cultural items such as Mozzarella di Bufala, Arbëreshë Culture, Grano e Farina (Wheats and Flours for Bread), and La Cultura del Caffè (Coffee Culture). For those unfamiliar with southern Italian cooking, the equipment and ingredients guide will be particularly helpful.
The stunning photography is provided by Ed Anderson. Many of the recipes are accompanied by a full page image, usually of the finished dish. There are also plenty of beautiful photos of the regions and even step-by-step photos to help illustrate more difficult techniques such as shaping pasta and folding bread. Titles are written in Italian and English. Measurements are listed in US Customary. A conversion chart can be found at the end of the book. Every recipe includes a headnote with background information, serving size, menu ideas, and helpful tips.
This book is a great pick for those interested in regional Italian cuisine. Some recipes come together relatively easily and are great for weeknights, but many are on the more technical side or need some prior planning. A few ingredients may require a trip to a specialty Italian market such as Fiori di sambuco (elderflower blossoms), mutton, burrata, hazelnuts, anchovies, fresh seafood, scamorza cheese, farina di semola rimacinata (fancy durum flour), curly endive, saffron, pancetta, Tropea onions, mortadella, and whole rye flour. Substitutions are provided when possible.
Orecchiette al Grano Arso (Toasted-Flour Orecchiette)
Orecchiette is a small ear-shaped pasta from Puglia. It is a fun one to make once you get the steps down and requires no special equipment. This was my first time coming across it with the addition of toasted flour! According to Katie, “fields would be burned at the end of the season, and hungry farmers would harvest the bits of charred grain and mill this so-called Grano Arso (burned grain) to make flour for pasta.”
This Orecchiette is best made with farina di semola (durum wheat flour). The high protein content helps hold together short, thick pasta shapes (but is not good for longer strands that need to be stretched) without the need for eggs. It can be located in the specialty flour section of many larger grocery stores, especially those featuring Italian ingredients or online: Bob’s Red Mill Semolina Pasta Flour.
One cup of the farina di semola (durum wheat flour) is arranged in a thin layer on a baking sheet and toasted in a 350˚F oven until a deep golden color with a nutty aroma. The toasted flour is then combined with the remaining raw flour and warm water to create the pasta dough. At this point, it can be tightly wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to a week. The ball of dough does not freeze well, but the formed orecchiette (before cooking) can be tightly covered in plastic and frozen for up to a week.
To form the orecchiette, cut off a 1/2 inch thick strip of dough and roll back and forth with your fingers into a long strand about 1/4 inch thick. Press a knife into the edge of the strand and drag the piece of dough against the cutting board to form the circular, curled piece of pasta. Repeat with the remaining dough, placing the pieces of formed orecchiette on a semolina-dusted plate or baking sheet.
I paired the Orecchiette al Grano Arso with another recipe in the book, Orecchiette con Burrata, Pomodorini, e Pesto- photo below.
I also made the Carrati con Ricotta e Noci (Carrati with Ricotta and Walnuts); Orecchiette con Burrata, Pomodorini, e Pesto (Orecchiette with Burrata, Tomatoes, and Almond Pesto); Susciello (Eggs with Salami and Tomato); and Patate Raganate (Crispy Potatoes with Onions and Parmigiano-Reggiano).
The Carrati con Ricotta e Noci (Carrati with Ricotta and Walnuts) comes together easily for a delicious and comforting weeknight meal. After boiling the pasta until tender, it is coated in a mixture of ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and toasted walnuts. I used dried Cavatelli, but Katie also includes a recipe to make your own Caratti (fresh hand-rolled pasta made with a ferreto- thin metal rod).
I used the homemade Orecchiette al Grano Arso to make Orecchiette con Burrata, Pomodorini, e Pesto (Orecchiette with Burrata, Tomatoes, and Almond Pesto). Halved cherry tomatoes are roasted in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of oregano. The orecchiette is coated in an almond pesto sauce before stirring in the roasted tomatoes and creamy Burrata. I especially loved this dish with the nuttiness from the toasted Orecchiette.
This South Italian version of eggs cooked in a tomato sauce (Susciello) is the perfect way of using up a variety of leftover pork. Pancetta, crumbled Italian sausage, and soppresata are simmered in a tomato sauce, then eggs are cracked in and the mixture continues to cook until the whites have set, but the yolks are still runny. Katie recommends pairing this recipe with slices of toasted Pane di Matera (Matera-Style Durum Wheat Bread).
The Patate Raganate (Crispy Potatoes with Onions and Parmigiano-Reggiano) is a side dish from Basilicata. A mixture of sliced potatoes, onions, and tomatoes are arranged in a baking dish, drizzled with water, then topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano seasoned breadcrumbs. The dish is baked uncovered until the breadcrumbs are toasted and the potatoes have a golden crust.
Orecchiette al Grano Arso (Toasted-Flour Orecchiette) Recipe
Excerpt from Food of the Italian South
Orecchiette al Grano Arso (Toasted-Flour Orecchiette)
- 120 grams (2 1/2 cups) farina di semola (durum wheat flour) plus more as needed, divided
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
- Semolina for dusting
- Preheat oven to 350˚F.
- Place 1 cup (130 grams) of the flour on a rimmed baking sheet, distributing it evenly in a thin layer. Toast the flour in the oven until golden and nearly smoking, about 35 minutes. Set aside to cool for about 5 minutes.
- In a medium bowl, combine the toasted flour with the remaining 1 1/2 cups (190 grams) flour.
- Pour the flour mixture onto a work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the water, then mix with a fork, working from the edges of the well into the center, gradually incorporating it into the flour to form a shaggy dough. The dough should feel tacky but not sticky. If the dough sticks to your fingers, add 2 tablespoons more flour.
- Knead the dough energetically until it is a smooth, compact mass, 10 to 12 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before shaping. (At this point, the raw, unshaped dough can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week; it does not freeze well.)
- When the dough has rested, flatten it into a disc about 1/2 inch thick. Cut off a strip of dough about 1/2 inch thick. Cut off a strip of dough about 1/2 inch wide.
- Roll the dough into a long strand about 1/4 inch thick by pressing down on the dough with your fingertips in a back-and-forth motion. Press a knife into the edge of the strand and use it to drag the dough across the work surface, forming a roughly 3/4 inch circular curled-up pasta shape. Set aside on a plate dusted with semolina. Repeat with remaining dough.
- The shaped pasta can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to a week.
- Bring a large pot of water to a rolling oil over high heat. Heavily salt the water. When the salt has dissolved, add the pasta and cook until the raw bite is gone, about 3 minutes. Serve with Burrata, Pomodorini, e Pesto or the condiment of your choice.