Pasta alla Carrettiera, translated as Cart Driver’s pasta, attributes its humble beginning to the ease in which it could be prepared by cart drivers while travelling. No cooking was required for the sauce, and a simple campfire was set up to cook the pasta. It was truly a poor man’s dish, but it’s still rich in flavor. It is also called “pasta cu l’agghia” (pasta with garlic) – garlic being the predominate ingredient. I like to think of it as Southern Italy’s version of the more popular Italian “pesto” sauce that we more often associate with. There are many variations of this recipe depending on the area you’re from. Some cooks eliminate the tomatoes; others add mushrooms, tuna, or pancetta. In the town of Trapani, this dish is referred to as “Pesto alla Trapanese,” the only difference is that ground almonds added to the sauce.
In my family, this dish is served with slices of fried zucchini and toasted breadcrumbs on top. This is the simplest of summer dishes, taking advantage of the fresh tomatoes, zucchini, and basil growing in abundance.
To make this dish you will need a mortar and pestle.
Cart Driver’s Pasta: Pasta alla Carrettiera
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Makes 4 servings.
For the Sauce:
2 large very ripe tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
4 cloves garlic
6-7 large fresh basil leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 pound dry spaghetti
Grated Pecorino Romano cheese
For the Breadcrumb Topping:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup plain dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup ground almonds
For the Fried Zucchini (Optional):
1 large zucchini, cut across in 1/4-inch slices
Olive oil for frying
1. MAKE THE SAUCE: Mash the garlic, basil, and salt in a mortar and pestle, until the mixture is a pulp and there are no visible pieces of garlic.
Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Have ready a large bowl filled with cool water. Add the tomatoes to the boiling water and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the skins start to split. Remove tomatoes with a slotted spoon and plunge into the bowl of cool water. When cool enough to handle, place on a cutting board, using the tip of a sharp knife remove the skin and stem end, and chop the tomatoes. Transfer along with the juices into a medium bowl. Stir in the basil/garlic mixture, 1/4 cup olive oil, and pepper. Let sit for at least 1 hour to allow the flavors to develop.
2. MAKE THE BREADCRUMB TOPPING: Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet over low heat. Stir in the breadcrumbs, almonds, and salt, and continue to stir until lightly toasted. Remove from heat and transfer to a small serving bowl.
3. FRIED ZUCCHINI TOPPING (OPTIONAL): Place a thin layer of olive oil in a large skillet, and heat over medium-high heat. Brown zucchini on both sides, one layer at a time. Drain on paper towels and place on a small plate.
4. MAKE THE PASTA: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and return to the pot. Stir in a small amount of sauce, just to coat pasta. Place in individual serving bowls with several spoonfuls of the sauce on top and ground pepper. Pass along the extra sauce, grated cheese, breadcrumb, and zucchini toppings. If using zucchini, place on top of the pasta first, sprinkle with grated cheese, and bread crumbs.