Linguine with crusco pepper as a childhood memory of Maria Cicorella, starred chef of Conversano, a regional cuisine designed in an elegant and refined way without distorting its identity.
Find out you sat in the dining room like any other customer Alain Ducasse, a legend of French cuisine and world star, collector of 21 Michelin stars, at the head of a group which, with 1,400 employees, controls 20 restaurants in different countries, which organizes cooking classes and publishes gastronomy books all over the world, which collaborates with the Space Agency European Union for the development of the most suitable foods for astronauts, and that after having eaten quietly gets up, comes to the kitchen, and compliments you, it is enough to raise the pressure towards the stars and make you walk three steps at the above the sky. To initiate the qualitative leap of a restaurant, Il Pasha di Conversano, doing the triple pike jump that, from a housewife, turns you into a great chef and making it a true cathedral of excellence cuisine in this blessed land of Puglia that collects international awards is something that makes you proud at beyond all limits. Discover one day that in Paris they have decided to bring you into the firmament of the greatest chefs in the world by assigning you one Michelin star it is something which, once the cardiac fibrillations are overcome, profoundly changes your life.
But, the protagonist of this series of “miracles”, Marie Cicorelle, who seduces you with a way of doing things that expresses an extraordinary refinement, grace and distinction, which is rare in the frenetic world of culinary stars, his life has not changed his subject.
A beautiful phrase from Aldo De Martino, the Neapolitan actor and director, fits well: “I have always considered legendary not so much the heroes of extraordinary companies, but the people who, without shouting and silence, have worked professionally or as amateurs, with genuine love and passion and not out of ambition or selfishness for their own good”.
And yes, because for the legendary Maria Cicorella, the cuisine that has earned her so many honors is not a profession but an elective choice that has been in her heart since she was very young. She was only 8 years old and she had to cook for her father Francesco while mom was in the hospital. She had pieces of lamb in the fridge, took some potatoes and thought of prepare a “tiella”, a typical dish of the Apulian tradition in the rice, potatoes and mussels version, which he cooked in a wood-fired oven in the countryside. The news made the rounds of Conversanohe even arrived at his mother’s hospital, everyone was speechless at the aromas and flavors of this preparation.
It was a logical choice, years later, when Antonello Magistà, Francesco and Maria’s eighteen-year-old son and a talented sommelier, decided to raise the restaurant’s quality bar as Papa Francesco and Mamma Maria had set up years ago by getting up to their necks in debt, turning it into a welcoming and high-level restaurant, which the mother will go into the kitchen to lend a hand. Then it happened that the cook had to operate on his knee. It was the drama. The threat of installments to pay drove everyone to despair, we risked having to close shop. It was then that Maria volunteered as a cook to replace the one who had left. “Let me try, I said to my family – he said in an interview – when the last cook had to abandon us due to health problems, announcing an absence of two long months. They looked at me like an alien”. Antonello, with the reckless courage typical of young people, immediately agreed. What happened is history. Maria Cicorella throws herself headlong into the business, devouring books and kilos of gastronomic magazines guided by her natural passion for cooking. In addition to avidly read books, he also went to gain direct experience in Milan by Claudio Sadler then by Giancarlo Morelli. In no time, the Pashà restaurant (it was Antonello’s childhood name) made headlines, attracting the attention of foodies and food critics from all over Italy. They wrote about it “Bring the best of the region to the table with the right level of experimentation, with clean and decisive flavors, expert cooking, intense aromas typical of Puglia” and in 2013 could claim the star of a sweaty but well-deserved Michelin star. His audience has also become international.
Then comes the moment of fatigue, a health problem, the pressure of a starred restaurant is very strong. After leaving the Pashà in good hands, Maria Cicorella takes a break. But the break is very short-lived. The sacred fire of cooking that has driven her since childhood pushes her to embark on a new profession, less demanding than a starred restaurant, but more in keeping with her passion for rituals. sacred of a regional tradition that it sinks over the centuries, always remaining adherent to the cult of local products and its heritage.
And here it is “Evviva Maria” was born – this is the story of the last few days – a restaurant that has the characteristics of a fast and informal trattoria and that focuses above all on one thing: orecchiette.
For Maria, it’s like a return to her origins, to her childhood, where she wants to experience her own territorial dimension. “More than a chef – she says – I am Mamma Maria both for my children and for those around me “ and “Evviva Maria” expresses well the sense of a sought-after social and human dimension which is realized around a table made of simple things and feelings but which at the same time have great depth. And here the very famous Apulian orecchiette will turn into many small masterpieces in its short story.
“Today – says Luciano Pignataro – Maria Cicorella is the Lady of Pugliathe cook who upset the traditional orecchietta, symbol of pugliesità in the world, creating her own in terms of shape and callosity, and who at sixty years old is ready to write the third fundamental chapter of her life”.
For readers of Mondo Food, Maria Cicorella offers the Linguine recipe with crusco pepper extract, a memory of real life, an emblematic summary of how to design the cuisine of the territory in an elegant and refined way without distorting its identity.
“It’s one of the many dishes I’ve been inspired by since childhood, remembering my father’s little habits in the countryside. This, in fact, is inspired by what was my father’s favorite snack, who in the summer used to go to the countryside at 4:30 in the morning and therefore already at 9:30 the snack was a must. Her favorite was: the pasta fritters with grilled peppers and capers, a jar of strong ricotta to ‘love’, and the unmissable bowl of salted olives. It was a sacred moment of the working day, which satiated the stomach and the spirit to be able to work until 4:30 p.m. With this dish I just liked to play with his favorite breakfast: I made an extract from the grilled pepper, the rather intense strong ricotta I worked it with fresh sheep’s milk ricotta, capers only the leaves preserved in oil, and the olives that I dehydrated. I only replaced the pancakes with linguina, which I find extremely suitable for the amalgamation of this very poor but fascinating and captivating condiment “
Roast, peel and mix the peppers with their vegetable water, gradually adding the oil. In this way, a cream is obtained with which to season the pasta.
Dilute the ricotta with the cream of milk to make it fluid.
Prepare the olive powder by marinating them in seawater and then dehydrating them in the oven. On summer days, they can be placed in a baking dish in the upper part of the kitchen where it is warmer, leaving them until they are dry.
Blend the olives to obtain a powder
Boil the water, add the salt, never too much, and overcook the pasta al dente, it is better to remove it one minute before because it must be creamed in a saucepan with two ladles of pepper cream.
The ricotta cream will be the base of the dish which will see the protagonists linguine with pepper cream with a pinch of olives and a sheet of capers in oil to garnish everything