Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pasta and Potatoes (alla Napoletana)

The combination of pasta and potatoes is too often overlooked. A dish rich in carbohydrates and starch, the combination doesn’t fit into the modern day conception of eating light. As for myself, pasta and potatoes are a match made in heaven. It’s hard to imagine a more perfectly conceived duo for someone with mixed Italian and Irish heritage.

In Ireland the potato was for long what pasta was to the Italians – a cheap, widely available staple well suited to filling the hungry bellies of a large family. It is still considered a staple in Ireland, just as pasta is in Italy. The history of the potato in the Italian kitchen, however, charts a slightly different trajectory. It did become popular in the countryside, particularly from the late 18th century, but never as a staple food.  It was never either considered or treated as a simple accompaniment to everything, the Italians having always seen the potato as an ingredient in its own right.

Pasta and potatoes feature together in Italy on a regular basis. Liguria has trenette al pesto, thin strands of pasta cooked along with green beans and cubes of potato, served with a basil pesto. In Lombardia, buckwheat pasta is served with boiled potatoes and cabbage and finished with melted taleggio cheese. Throughout the country, diced potatoes are often added to the evening’s bowl of minestrone along with other vegetables.

One of the best, in my opinion is a dish that originated in Naples in Campania. My family is from the area and it is a dish that I grew up with. Paste e patate alla Napoletana (pasta and potatoes Neapolitan-style) is a tasty and nutritious dish that most likely originated in the countryside around Naples. The Neapolitans traditionally made it using a variety of kitchen leftovers – such as mixed pasta and the chopped rind of parmesan - so it was almost certainly a dish associated with the local cucina povera.  Today there are numerous variations on the dish and what follows is my personal take on it. It’s quick and simple to make, highly flavoursome and makes for the perfect evening meal.

Pasta and potatoes Neapolitan-style
Pasta e patate alla Napoletana

For 4 people
Cooking time 15 minutes


320gr mixed dried pasta
600gr potatoes, diced small
100gr sweet cherry tomatoes
70gr pancetta chopped small
1 medium onion
1 stalk of celery
A spoonful of chopped celery leaves
Parmesan cheese for grating
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Chop the onion and the celery and add to a heavy-based frying pan along with the olive oil. Add the pancetta and fry gently until the vegetables begin to soften. Roughly chop the cherry tomatoes and add these to the pan along with the diced potatoes. Stir well and continue to simmer on a gentle heat.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add the pasta. If you are cleaning out your cupboards and using different shapes of pasta, make sure to add them according to cooking time. Cook until al dente.

A couple of minutes before the pasta is cooked turn up the heat on the frying pan to reduce the cooking liquid. Do not let it dry out completely. Check for seasoning. Once the pasta is ready, drain and add this to the pan. Mix together well and throw in a couple of tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Finish with a sprinkling of chopped celery leaves.


  1. As a three year Napoletan I perked up at this one and earned some serious husband points tonight when I made it for dinner. Delicious. Next time I will use more tomatoes because they cook down a lot and I will brown up the pancetta before putting it in the mix. Grazie! Mario.

  2. Your very welcome! I'm so pleased you liked it and equally pleased to have helped earn you brownie points. Your right though. The tomatoes need to be judged according to type and season. If you can get hold of them in the Summer, the San Marzano type tomatoes from Campania also work a treat.