Bag it and grill: Spaghetti al cartoccio

First bbq of the season

Summer is now official in the chestnut forest. Yesterday’s first seasonal barbecue (grigliata) was such a lip-smacking, finger-licking, garlic breath success that I’ll be bagging our meals ’til the end of August and it won’t be for the dogs. The phrase al cartoccio means “in a bag”, and food cooked in this way is not only easy, but great fun to open all by yourself, revealing the delicious contents within. The dish spaghetti al cartoccio is just that, and the first time I had this was on a visit to the Cinque Terre in Liguria over a decade ago. My order was surely finished off in an oven because where there’s no smoke, there’s no fire, yet the food-in-a-bag idea stuck. Using aluminum with baking parchment came as a second thought as I don’t like the taste when tomato comes in contact with foil.

Antipasto: pane carasau and ash-covered goat cheese

Pane carasau and caprino

Repeat after me: the whole of Italy has the best food ever. Pane carasau is a specialty of Sardegna but I’m able to pick up a box of half rounds at the market and there’s enough for at least a party of 8. The thin, light, crispy layers were broken into segments and served with goat cheese that we buy from a local producer. The vegetable ash is safe to eat – you won’t taste chimney soot in your mouth – and the entire rind is perfectly edible.

Primo: Spaghetti e vongole al cartoccio

Spaghetti al cartoccio

The trick is…to cook the pasta for approximately 7-8 minutes and no longer than that. The spaghetti will continue to cook over the grill in its own fragrant juices for another 5 minutes. For two people I used the following amounts, but adjust accordingly to your personal taste.

½ lb spaghetti
2 lbs vongole bianca (tiny white clams also known as lupini)
3 large cloves garlic (minced)
3/4 cup diced tomatoes
1/8 cup freshly chopped italian parsley
olive oil

Begin by cooking the pasta in boiling, salted water; 8 minutes. Meanwhile, saute the garlic in olive oil for a few seconds until fragrant. Do not brown. Add the tomatoes, toss and cook for a few minutes until softened. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the clams (which have been pre-soaked in water to purge any sediment), cover and cook until they open. Add the parsley. Now stir in the drained pasta and portion into two baking parchment/tin foil sheets about 22 inches long. Don’t worry if you can’t fit all of the clams into the packets – serve the rest as a side dish as I’ve done in the image below. To wrap, bring up the long sides then the shorter ends and crimp to secure. See top photo in this post. Place the pouches over hot coals for another 5 minutes.

Note on lupini clams: they are the tiniest things, not more than an inch at the widest part, but they are said to be much tastier than their bigger cousins. Personally I couldn’t tell any difference, but the empty shells looked nice all piled up on a plate.

Small white clams in tomato-garlic sauce

Contorno: fave e cicureddha

Fave e cicureddha

I can’t seem to get enough of Puglia’s cuisine and this is just one more example of it. Fava bean puree and boiled cicoria catalogna, a type of chicory green, along with bread cubes fried in olive oil. Oh yes, that would be like croutons! There is no secret to cooking this dish. The greens are boiled in salted water until tender. Dried fava beans are soaked overnight, boiled until softened, then drained and turned into a puree with an immersion blender. Salt, pepper and top quality olive oil is all that’s needed to make it complete. And speaking of complete, a simple vase of flowers always lends a special touch to the table, doesn’t it? I cut some blooms from around the yard and noticed that the peaches are quite ping pong ball size now. And in the other image, olive-rosemary focaccia and a Verdicchio from Le Marche adds finality to the completeness…ehh…until it was time to serve fresh nectarines and LASTLY, gelati. Whew! What a meal.

Flower display Focaccia and Verdicchio


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