Watching news coverage of my family’s homeland suffering from this viral nightmare has been difficult for me. Recently, however, I came upon a video depicting residents of an apartment complex in Naples one evening joining in song to express solidarity in the fight against this virus and longing for a hug. The song, Abbraciame (Hug Me), begins:
Finally tonight I’m here with you
and no one can hear.
I’m a bit shy and you know
I’m not good at this.
Who doesn’t have courage in life,
They can only lose their dream.
Therefore, if you’re here you got it
that my dream is you.
I’ve fallen in love with you
I’m crazy for you, I’m crazy for you!
One voice, which eerily reminded me of my long deceased aunt’s, is heard above the others singing the subsequent lyrics in local dialect:
And then yes, hug me stronger
because then who gives a f…k?
If all the time that passed is wasted time,
or if tomorrow nothing will exist,
hug me tonight. . .
Tears came to my eyes when I heard this. Somehow, I identified with those singers on their balconies since my husband and I are both in the age group most vulnerable to the virus.
Last night, the mix of emotions, pathos, fear, hope, love, elicited by the song made me want to be there with them, joining in their chorus. Unable to do that, I prepared a humble pasta dish that at least transported us there in spirit: Spaghetti Poveri, Poorman’s Spaghetti.
The recipe comes from the Italian website: Giallo Zafferano. A video on the site demonstrates the preparation of the dish. I made a few modifications to the original, among them substituting dried pepperoncino for fresh and brined nonpareil capers for larger capers under salt. And unlike the young chef who prepped and cooked while the spaghetti boiled, I started by toasting the breadcrumbs and preparing the sauce before cooking the pasta.
Whichever way you choose, it’s relatively quick and simple to prepare. The flavors are earthy and savory with hints of heat from the pepperoncino and umami from the anchovies. The breadcrumbs, the “cheese of the poor” add toast notes and make for a richly textured pasta.
Spaghetti Poveri (adapted from the Giallo Zafferano website.)
Extra-virgin olive oil 3 tablespoons, divided
Red onion 3 ounces, chopped fine
Garlic 1 clove, minced
Anchovies packed in oil 3.5 ounces, drained
Nonpareil capers 1 ounce, rinsed and drained
Dried pepperoncino 2, or ½ teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
Taggiasche olives, pitted 3.5 ounces
Parsley, chopped, to taste
Plain breadcrumbs 1.5 ounces
Spaghetti 11 ounces
1. In a large pot, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add salt.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet or sauté plan, pour in 2 tablespoons of olive oil or enough to almost cover the bottom of the pan. Add the chopped onion and sauté over medium heat until soft, about 7 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, until aromatic.
4. Add the capers and the anchovies and cook over low heat, mashing the anchovies until they begin to melt, about 2 to 3 minutes. If the sauce appears dry, add some of the pasta water.
5. Add the pepperoncino and continue to cook for about 1 minute or until the anchovies have completely melted into the sauce.
6.Add the olives and cook briefly stirring to mix all the ingredients well. Remove from the heat and set aside.
7. Cook the spaghetti, according to package directions, until just shy of al dente.
8. While the pasta is cooking, in a small skillet, pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add the breadcrumbs. Toast over medium heat, stirring until the crumbs turn golden, about 4 minutes. When done, remove from the heat and transfer the crumbs to a small bowl. Note that, if you prefer, you can make this your first step.
9. Return the skillet with the sauce to the stove, add the chopped parsley and over low, gently heat the sauce.
10. When the spaghetti is done, using tongs, transfer it from the pot to the skillet and toss with the sauce, over low heat for about a minute. If the pasta looks dry, add a little of the pasta water.
11. Add the breadcrumbs, about a ladle of the pasta water, and stir, mixing well.
11. Transfer to warmed pasta bowls and serve.
Wine Pairing: Aglianico, Primitivo