Durum wheat is an important crop in the Basilicata region of Italy. Better known as semolina, this coarse-ground durum wheat with its characteristic amber colour and coarser texture, has a higher protein content than soft varieties of wheat. Used to make their famous bread – pane di Matera and Altamura, it allows the production of necessary gluten to attain the characteristic texture in this regions bread. It is also highly favoured in the use of pasta making in the south of Italy when eggs are not used.
History documents that Basilicata was the first region in Italy where pasta was recorded and there are over 10 kinds of typical fresh pasta produced here, each one unique in the way it is formed. The most well-known due Basilicata’s geographical position bordering Puglia are orecchiette aka recchietelle in the Lucanian dialect, and tapparelle a larger version of the afore mentioned. The other well-known pasta types are lagane – a short and wide type of tagliatelle typically served with chickpeas and referred to as lagane e ceci; cavatelli – carved with one finger, and these strascinati which form part of this dish.
Strascinati are pulled pasta shapes popular in southern Italy. They can be pulled over grooved boards or baking boards using a knife, iron or simply with your fingers – three or four. They are often prepared in a winter dish called strascinati con lu’ntruppc, a sauce made from veal, pork and local sausage, but reserved for special occasions due to its richness and effort in preparation. The classic way to serve strascinati, is with dried sweet peppers known as peperoni cruschi, breadcrumbs and chili. This was one of the classic dishes from the region we enjoyed at the lovely Agriturismo La Pannocchia in Tito, province of Potenza during our family farewell gathering last year.
Basilicata is rich in history and agriculture but much of its cuisine is simple and influenced by its geographic location and ancient traditions. Garlic, olive oil and peperoncino (chili) are the base ingredients of many Lucanian pasta sauces, to which seasonal vegetables or locally produced meats are often added.
Different types of peppers, both spicy and sweet are a signature of this region’s cuisine. The most popular pepper is the bright red, thin-fleshed peperoni di Senise IGP – a typical product of a small village called Senise located in the province of Potenza. These peppers are naturally dried by threading from their stalk one by one with a needle and arranging them spirally around the string until they form a long length called serte and left to dry in the sun to further enhance their flavour. They are then added to soups and other dishes or pulverized into a sweet paprika-like powder, used as a seasoning and preservative for the region’s famous pork sausages.
Dried Senise peppers are called cruschi in the local dialect and are a quintessential taste of Basilicata, but sadly hard to find in shops anywhere else. As they are the hero of this dish, they can be easily replicated using the more common bull horn variety found in your local market or greengrocer. As most wouldn’t have these peppers on hand, the alternative ingredient would be sweet paprika tossed through this broccolini sauce before adding to the strascinati.
Strascinati with Broccolini & Peperoni Cruschi (Crispy Peppers)
500 grams semolina flour (durum wheat)
2 bunches of broccolini cut into pieces
6 peperoni cruschi (or sweet paprika)
large clove garlic
olive oil (quanto basta)
grated ricotta salata or other favourite cheese
A few tips before commencing: you should calculate 80 to 100 gm of semolina flour per person and enough lukewarm water added to obtain a tough but pliable dough after kneading it for a few minutes. The rule is to add the water little by little, as it is easier to add it than to fix ‘soggy’ dough. When you have the dough ready, knead it into a ball and cover it with a clean tea towel or bowl and let it rest for 10-15 minutes.
When making the dough I like to mix the flour and water in a bowl and once combined, I then turn it out onto a pasta board for kneading. This process can also be completed in a food processor or mix master with dough hook.
For the peperoni cruschi, you will need sun-dried sweet Italian peppers. I used the bull horn variety that my parents grow, which they sun dried. However, you can substitute this ingredient by adding sweet paprika to when sautéing the broccolini.
To make the dough for the strascinati:
Mix the flour, salt and warm water together in a bowl using your hands until the flour has absorbed the water and starts to come together. Add more water if it feels too dry.
Turn it out onto a board and keep kneading the dough until it forms a ball of even texture.
Cut off handfuls of dough at a time, keeping the rest covered. To make strascinati, roll each piece into a smaller cylinder about 8 mm thick and cut into 4cm in length. Use 3 of your fingers (cut the pieces longer if you are making longer strascinati) and press down on the pasta, dragging it towards you to create the indentations needed. Set aside.
To make the broccolini sauce:
For the sweet and smoky flavoured peperoni cruschi, you need to first cut them in half, length ways and remove the seeds and stems from the dried peppers. Place the cut peppers with half a cup of olive oil in a fry pan. Toss to coat with the olive oil and then place the pan over medium heat. Keep stirring them with a fork as the oil in the pan warms up. As soon as they puff up and become crispy you should remove them from the oil; be careful not to burn them. Add a sprinkle of salt and set aside to be used later.
Wash, cut and sauté the broccolini in some olive oil along with crushed garlic and season with salt, and cook until the broccolini are slightly under cooked.
Crush the peperoni cruschi and mix through the broccolini. Reserve some for garnish. Alternatively add generous shakes of sweet paprika.
Boil a medium pot of salted water and add the strascinati, cooking until they rise to the surface, drain and add the pasta to the cooked broccolini in the pan. Reserve a small ladle of the water and add to the pan. Toss over a low heat until the pasta picks up all the flavours.
Plate up and add a grating of ricotta salata and garnish with one or two peperoni cruschi.