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By Vince S. Di Piazza
Every day at DITALIA we share lunch together. At lunch time, we take a breather, share our experiences, and bond over authentic Italian dishes cooked up by my father, Vincenzo, and his friend Nicola. We’re always changing what’s on our plates based on seasonal produce and Italian traditions. And now that it’s spring time, we’re bringing a taste of Sicilian springtime to our table. This is why we wanted to share this dish with you: our family’s Pasta Milanese.
In our family, we only make Pasta Milanese about twice a year, but it’s always an event filled with family, laughter, and lots of St. Joseph sawdust (the breadcrumb topping over the pasta). The funny thing about Pasta Milanese is that it means something different to each person. For some (like my Sicilian parents), the dish has very strong roots in religion, as the dish is traditionally part of a banquet to honor San Giuseppe, the Patron Saint of Sicily.
Since I grew up in St. Louis, my memories of this dish involve family and friends from the Italian American community coming together and sharing a meal. When my family made Pasta Milanese, it not only signified endless amounts of food and sweets (St. Joseph was also the Patron Saint of pastry cooks), but it meant bringing together jovial aunts and uncles and grandparents in the kitchen. In addition to Pasta Milanese, The table would be full of“sfinci” (a fried donut-like treat filled with custard) and ravioli.
My memories of this dish involve family and friends from the Italian American community coming together and sharing a meal.
Have I stressed enough that this is a family affair? My dad, Vincenzo, always has the last say when he’s in the kitchen. He started DITALIA in 1987 when he, a young immigrant from Sicily, found himself missing the comforting dishes of home. He’s definitely got strong opinions about what makes up traditional Sicilian cooking! This dish is definitely a reflection of our relationship, and how we’ve both adapted this dish over time.
Just like any good family recipe, it changes and takes on qualities of each person who makes it.
Our recipe is a family classic, but if you ask someone in the next town, they might have a whole different recipe. Heck, even as we started to make the dish, it began to evolve. Just like any good family recipe, it changes and takes on qualities of each person who makes it. In my dad’s time, they would pick wild fennel to add to this dish, among other home grown ingredients. Today, we have the gift of “condimento,” a very special mixture of ingredients tailor made for Pasta Milanese. Cuoco Condimento, is nothing glamorous, for sure, but it contains all of the ingredients and memories of my St. Joseph day celebrations as a kid. It’s simple, delicious, and completely Sicilian.
Some people prefer to prepare this dish without tomato, making instead, a dish called Pasta Con Le Sarde. Others add more raisins, more pine nuts, less sauce. My dad will say that, “the bread must be fresh when shredded into crumbs!” and “you must let the sardines melt when making the sauce.” Somany “musts”! We love Vincenzo’s take on this classic, but we hope that you’ll add your own spin to this dish too. Make it a memory of your own. And don’t forget to invite all of your family and friends over to enjoy — that’s a key ingredient for this recipe!
1/2 large white onion, finely diced
Ortiz Sardines in oil (about 8 ounces total, depending on how much you like sardines)
Garlic (1 clove of garlic per person, added to taste) minced
Passata (1 bottle)
2 cans Cuoco Condimento
1 small fresh baguette/rustic bread loaf
1/4 c. fresh parsley, minced
Bucatini pasta (1 lb)
Pecorino Romano (to taste), grated
Sauté the onions in olive oil until golden.
Add about 2-3 ounces of the sardines with garlic until the sardines begin to dissolve.
Add 1/2 of the minced garlic (reserve the rest to toast with the breadcrumbs).
As soon as garlic starts to color, add the passata.
Bring sauce to a boil, then turn the head down to medium low heat to simmer. Simmer for about 10 – 15 minutes.
Add the “condimento” and cook for about 20 – 30 minutes. Add any remaining sardines to the sauce.
Shred a fresh baguette to create breadcrumbs.
Add the parsley, garlic and grated pecorino romano and the breadcrumbs to a saucepan and toast over medium heat in a pan. Be careful not to burn.
Once the sauce is nearing completion, begin the pasta.
Boil water, add salt and cook the bucatini until al dente (about 10 minutes).
Once the pasta is ready, drain and add back into the pot.
Add the finished sauce to the pasta one ladleful at a time.
Serve hot with a generous handful of the toasted breadcrumb mixture (the St. Joseph’s sawdust) and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil!