Tagliatelle alla Romagnola con Sugo di Spinaci

Noodles with Spinach and Tomato

The birthplace of this spinach and tomato sauce is Romagna, that ancient enclave of the Byzantine Roman Empire on the Adriatic. It is my native region as well, and this recipe out of my childhood is the one my grandmother used. Chopped fresh raw spinach is first insaporito—coated—with sautéed garlic and olive oil, then fresh tomatoes are added. When the tomatoes are cooked, the sauce is done.

The traditional pasta for the sauce is tagliatelle, the noodles that so many families in Romagna still make by hand every day, and that is the one suggested here. For a change, we would occasionally make a risotto with this sauce. Or, in winter, we would dilute the sauce with meat broth and serve it as soup with small cuts of pasta. It is also excellent on its own as a vegetable dish to accompany a pork roast or a boiled brisket of beef.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh spinach
  • 1 pound ripe, fresh tomatoes
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • teaspoons chopped garlic
  • Salt
  • Black pepper in a grinder
  • Tagliatelle or fettuccine, noodles made with 3 large eggs and about 2 cups flour, as described
  • Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan)

Method

  1. Cut off and discard the root end of the spinach, separating all the leaves. Soak the spinach for at least 5 to 6 minutes in a large basin filled with cold water. (I use the kitchen sink, after washing it thoroughly clean.) Lift the spinach out of the basin or sink, taking care not to scoop up any soil that will have settled to the bottom. Rinse the spinach in several changes of cold water until you are satisfied that there is no more grit on the leaves. Drain well, using, if you have it, one of those salad spinners. Otherwise, wrapping the leaves in a large kitchen towel and shaking the water through it is just as effective. Chop the dried spinach not too fine and set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan put enough water to cover the tomatoes later and bring it to a boil. Put in the tomatoes. After 2 to 3 minutes, drain and let the tomatoes cool just enough so that you can handle them. Peel them, split them, remove all the seeds that scrape away easily, and cut the flesh into narrow strips.
  3. Choose a sauté pan large enough to accommodate all the chopped spinach. Put into it the olive oil and garlic and turn on the heat to medium. Cook until the garlic becomes colored a pale gold.
  4. Add the spinach, salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for a minute or two.
  5. Add the tomatoes and lower the heat so that the tomatoes can cook at a gentle simmer. Stir from time to time. When you see the oil separate from the sauce, in about 25 minutes or so, the sauce is done.
  6. Drop the noodles into a pot of abundant boiling salted water. When they are cooked but still firm to the bite, drain and toss immediately with the sauce. Serve with a liberal sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan.

Additional Serving Suggestions

In farmhouses in Romagna, the sauce is diluted with homemade meat broth in which one then cooks small pasta squares, pasta barley, or other miniature soup pasta shapes.

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