If you are fond of genuine flavours and comfort food, pasta and potatoes cannot be missing in your cookbook!
Like many traditional examples of "cucina povera" (peasant cuisine), pasta and potatoes lends itself to endless variations and is often enriched with other ingredients such as bacon, cheese, peas or even seafood: Campania has its own special, and probably most famous, variant known as Neapolitan pasta and potatoes.
Other regional versions include the Calabrian variant in "tiella" (oven-baked with tomato sauce and cheese), a rustic chickpea and potato pasta, a Mediterranean version with potatoes and mussels, a tasty potato and ham version, or a creamy potato and egg.
For my version, I'm sticking to Sicilian flavours and presenting you this variant with the addition of typical flavours from my region - fennel seeds, bay leaves, chunky tomatoes and a little chilli. We sometimes also call this "pasta co' sucu fintu", meaning pasta with a fake meat sauce, because the addition of fennel seeds and chilli give it a flavour that reminds that of Sicilian sausages, while adding starchy potatoes makes the sauce extra thick (just like a meat sauce).
I chose a typical Sicilian pasta shape called cavatelli - small pasta shells made from semolina that are also common to the Calabria region. I previous shared my recipe for homemade cavatelli with semolina & chestnut flour in this post. You can of course use store-bought cavatelli, or choose a different pasta shape, preferably one that is thick and absorbs the sauce well, like trofie, caserecce or orecchiette.
This recipe reminds me of my grandmother, who used to often add fennel seeds and potatoes to her tomato sauce, thus making it extra tasty and really unique.
It happens to be a vegan recipe, and the combined starchiness of pasta and potatoes make it extra creamy without the need to add any dairy.
Ingredients (for 2)
200 g cavatelli, or other pasta (see suggestions above)
1 medium-large onion, chopped finely
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 for drizzling on top
2 bay leaves
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp chilli flakes
2-3 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
400 g canned pelati (peeled tomatoes)
2-3 fresh basil leaves
1 tsp sugar
Salt to taste
Start by making the sauce. In a heavy bottomed pan, heat 2 tbsp of oil and add the bay leaves and onions. Season with salt and sauté until the onion turns golden and translucent.
Add the potatoes, fennel seeds and chilli flakes and sauté for another 2-3 minutes on a medium heat. Stir in the peeled tomatoes, mashing them slightly with a fork.
Thin the sauce with 1/3 glass of water, add the sugar, basil leaves, and cook, covered and on a medium-low heat, for about 10 minutes or until the oil starts to separate, the sauce has thickened and the potatoes are fork-tender.
Stir a couple of times in between and, if needed, add a few splashes of water if the sauce starts to stick to the bottom of the pan.
While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add salt and the cavatelli. Cook according to packaging, then drain and transfer to the pan with the sauce.
Mix it well. The starches from both the pasta and the potatoes will make it extra creamy. After plating, drizzle the remaining olive oil and add some fresh basil and more chilli flakes if you like.