Mention Campanian cuisine and many might envision Neapolitan-style pizza. However, the region extends beyond the well-known city into the foothills and peaks of the Apennines. This dish from Irpina highlights the fare of interior Campania and traditionally accentuates the puleggio herb that grows wild in the mountains. Stateside, you’ll use mint as a substitute (the wilder, the better).
- 4 garlic cloves
- Pinch of salt, plus more to season
- 1½ cups loose-packed mint
- 1½ cups loose-packed basil or parsley, plus more for garnish
- 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 can (12-ounce) whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 1 cup Roma or other plum tomatoes, halved
- 1 pound cavatelli
- Chile oil (optional)
With mortar and pestle, crush garlic and pinch of salt. Add mint and basil in stages, crushing until incorporated. Add olive oil to hydrate, no more than 3 tablespoons.
Warm 4 tablespoons olive oil in large pan over medium heat. When oil begins to shimmer, add pesto. Cook, stirring frequently, until hot. Add red pepper flakes, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, and season with salt, to taste. Simmer until tomatoes begin to fall apart and sauce thickens, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring large pot of heavily salted water to boil. Cook cavatelli for about 2 minutes less than package indicates. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, and drain cavatelli. Add cavatelli to sauce, and mix well. Adjust sauce’s consistency with reserved pasta water, as needed. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce clings loosely to pasta, about 1 minute. Season with salt, to taste. Garnish with basil leaves and drizzle with chile oil, if desired. Serves 4–6.
From one of Campania’s many volcanic wine-producing areas, La Sibilla’s Piedirosso from Campi Flegrei is a savory, medium-bodied red that will hold up well alongside this dish. Its supple tannins and tangy acidity match well with the tomatoes, while delicate herbal and fresh mineral nuances echo the mint and basil.