#6 GRAGNANO, ITS MILLS AND SOME FIRST-RATE SPAGHETTI
[We have a wander around Italy on the hunt for the most typical dishes of our heritage. Which you can also replicate at home, if you fancy. That’s right, because we’re also going to give you the recipe!]
On the Amalfi Coast (not far from Naples), a mule track in the Monti Lattari mountains used to connect the Castellammare di Stabia commune to the town of Amalfi. A stretch of this route is known today as the Valle dei Mulini, or Valley of the Mills: a site of industrial archaeology (which is disused but can still be visited) that has nurtured the local economy and helped it to prosper since the 13th century.
We are in Gragnano and those mills have made Gragnano pasta some of the finest in the world.
There were about thirty water mills built on the hillside, running along the multiple springs that feed into the Vernotico stream. An example of ante litteram hydraulic engineering: operating the millstones by harnessing not only the power of the water at the source, but the momentum of the cascading path too. In other words, the water at the base of one mill would reach the top of the next one, just below. And so on for all thirty, all the way down to the valley.
Today there are 11 survivors, some of which are in ruins, but the magic of this valley – and of humankind’s ingenuity – is virtually intact.
Gragnano pasta is savoury, fragrant and resists overcooking like no other. Its rough texture is a result of the pasta being bronze drawn, which makes it perfect for holding the sauce and results in delicious mouthfuls.
To enjoy the flavour at its very best, we suggest the simplest of seasonings: garlic, oil and chilli pepper. A simple recipe that requires nothing but the finest ingredients – if not, it would have practically no taste at all.
And if you’re partial to stronger flavours, you could try the “my way” variation instead. Here they are, both of them.
MY SPAGHETTI WITH GARLIC, OIL AND CHILLI PEPPER
[preparation time: just 20 minutes]
Ingredients [serves 4]
- 320g of Gragnano spaghetti
- 2 dried chilli peppers
- 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
For the “my way” variation
- 150g of Pecorino cheese, grated (Parmesan is fine as an alternative. But Pecorino would be better!)
- 6 tbsp of breadcrumbs
- 4 anchovies
While bringing the water for the pasta to a boil (1 litre per 100 grams), heat the oil in a very large pan and brown the garlic, finely chopped. If you just turned your nose up at this, you could leave the cloves whole or poach them instead (i.e. without removing the white peel).
Please be aware, however, that the garlic should be minced (and eaten!). Add the chilli pepper, also chopped.
Note: the garlic should be golden brown, not burnt... ;)
Salt the water and tip in the spaghetti. Don’t forget: never ever break spaghetti!
Drain the pasta one minute before the time listed on the packet. Remember: begin counting the minutes when the water starts boiling again.
Drain the spaghetti and leave as wet as possible; together with a ladleful of the water you used to cook with, add it to the pan you just heated: everything should sizzle instantly!
This process should last less than a minute, just enough time to season the spaghetti well but without overcooking – Gragnano pasta may be good at resisting overcooking, but it’s better not to expose it to too many risks... ;)
When browning the garlic, add the anchovies before the chilli pepper: they will melt from the heat, the oil will get thicker and it will smell faintly of fish. After the chilli pepper, add the breadcrumbs and toast them: they’ll be ready when they look golden brown.
The Pecorino cheese should be added to the spaghetti sizzling in the pan instead. Et voilà, our 100% Italian dish is served...
Buon appetito! 💗