The 200-year old L’Europeo, where I sampled pizza is also a restaurant and it has the most delicious rendition of a favorite Neapolitan dish—pasta, patate e provola. You can probably translate this yourself: Pasta, Potatoes and Provola Cheese—the kind of cheese we usually call provolone. All varieties of provola (there are many) are pulled-curd cheeses, like mozzarella, but after they are formed into pear shapes, they are hung to dry, and sometimes smoked.
As they do with pizza, Neapolitans have strong opinions on what makes a good dish of pasta, patate e provola. As prepared by Bruno di Rosa’s mother Rita, It is considered a soup and eaten with a spoon. At L’Europeao it was definitely a pasta, dense and cheesy and full of flavor—with all the comforts of baked macaroni and cheese.
- 1 onion chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1-1/2 to 2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes (4 cups)
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt, plus more to taste and for the pasta
- 1 pound ditalini
- 2 ounces bacon or pancetta, chopped
- 1 cup fresh tomato, seeded and diced
- 8 ounces smoked provola or mozzarella, in ½-inch cubes
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Put 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and the chopped bacon in the big skillet and set over medium-high heat. Stir and cook for 3 or 4 minutes, to render its fat. Stir in the chopped onion and cook until it is sizzling and wilting, about 3 minutes. Spill in the cubed potatoes, toss well in the fat, then spread them in the pan. Season with the salt and cook, tossing and turning the potatoes frequently, for another 3 or 4 minutes, until the cubes are lightly crisped all over.
Pour in 4 cups water, stir everything around and scrape up any crust on the skillet bottom. Bring the water to a gently bubbling boil and cook, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked. The soup (or sauce, depending on your point of view) should reduce so it barely covers the potato cubes.
Meanwhile, bring 6 quarts of salted water to the boil in the pasta pot. After the potatoes have cooked for about 10 minutes, drop the ditalini into the pot and cook al dente. Drain the ditalini and stir into the thickened potato soup/sauce. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and simmer the pasta e patate together for another 3 minutes or so, to an even denser consistency
Stir in the diced tomatoes, cook for a minute, and adjust salt to taste. Turn off the heat, scatter the cubed provola all over and stir into the pasta e patate continuously as it melts into threads. Finally, stir in the grated cheese. Serve immediately, in warm bowls.