Ours is squat, with glass as thick as my grandfather’s specs and a red screw-on lid, and it sits on the middle shelf of the food cupboard. A jar and home for la pasta mista.
While it is surely common anywhere there is pasta and a resourceful cook, pasta mista or mixed pasta is synonymous with Naples and Campania, where they call it pasta ammiscata, ammescata or meschiafrancesco. As recently as 1970, pasta was sold by weight in grocery stores, shapes scooped from deep wooden drawers with glass fronts. The remains at the bottom of these drawers, the leftovers and fragments, corners and broken bits, were all swept together. These sweepings were called ammiscata, given their own drawer and sold cheaply: the Neapolitan equivalent of Woolworths’ broken biscuits.
Of course pasta mista was also assembled at home, ends of packets rounded up like unruly children and put in one place. Manufacturers, too, saw profit in a jumble and packaged it. There is pleasure, though, in assembling your own, managing packets stuffed in a cupboard and shepherding them into one place, watching the evolving mix through the glass. While you want to keep an eye on the various shapes you are tipping into the jar, and to be attentive that cooking times are pretty similar, slight differences are part of the beauty. The corkscrew of fusilli firmer than a u-bend of maccheroni, the almost crunchy, ruffled mafaldine rubbing up against an inch of bucatini, all of them at home in a dense minestra.
Minestre of all sorts welcome pasta mista, but particularly those with beans and pulses, pasta e fagioli, pasta e ceci, pasta e lenticchie and soupy versions of pasta e broccoli. An ideal fit, though, is with potatoes for pasta mista e patate, essentially potato soup with pasta, which is a beige woolly sock of a dish. An unappealing description I know, but these are soft, comfortable socks and Neapolitan, so rich with olive oil and dense with cheese, Parmesan, scamorza, maybe pancetta or sausage; the rich starchy embodiment of food as comfort. I call on pasta e patate often in the winter, and it hasn’t failed me yet.
There are two recipes for pasta e patate in An A-Z of Pasta and it felt only right to share one of them with you as we head into the colder months, so that you might call on it too. A thick potato soup in which you cook pasta, it is greater than the sum of its parts. Let it sit for 10 minutes or thereabouts, so it is ‘nè bollente, nè fredda’ (neither hot nor cold), rather somewhere in the middle, which best suits both the flavour and texture: the collapsing potato, various degrees of pasta and fusing cheese, and you.
Pasta and Potatoes Neapolitan Style
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 onion, peeled and finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
2 sticks of celery
5 tbsp olive oil salt
5–6 (1 kg) potatoes, peeled and diced into 1cm cubes
1 bay leaf
250g pasta mista
100g Parmesan, grated
In a large heavy-based pan over a medium-low heat, fry the onion, carrot and celery in the olive oil, with a pinch of salt, until starting to soften.
Add the potatoes to the pan, stir until every cube is glistening with oil, then add the bay leaf and 1.2 litres of water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for 12 minutes.
Raise the heat so the soup boils steadily, add the pasta and cook until it is al dente – you may need to add a bit more water. To finish, add the Parmesan and some ripped basil and serve.
Find more of Rachel’s recipes in
An A-Z of Pasta
Discover the stories, histories and recipes behind 50 different pasta shapes.
Learn to make fresh pasta dough from scratch and how to roll, shape and cut everything from spaghetti to ravioli.
Match your favourite shapes to sauces, from carbonara to ragù