Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Therapeutical oregano and pasta?

During Easter holidays I had a couple of very good friends from Norway, we spent most of the time eating, you know :) … a welcome dinner at home on Friday, we went out for lunch and dinner on Saturday, family lunch for Easter day, and again what we call “scampagnata” (a day trip into the country) on Easter Monday, yes … definitely too much food!
I guess everything started on Sat morning when I brought them out for a walking tour downtown in Catania. We stopped both at the fish market and at the central marked and they were truly amazed by the mountains of fresh and dried oregano.
Then, eating here and there, they realized how much we use oregano when cooking and finally they asked that question. What about oregano and why do you use it so much? It was not only me surprised I mean, some of my friends there were really upset and looked at them as a sort of extraterrestrial phenomena!

I recovered and soon realized they were right somehow, we use a lot of oregano every day. I guess there are food and ingredients we take for granted and it is not so. It’s only us from Mediterranean countries or is anyone else in the rest of the world so crazy about oregano?
To tell the true they were a bit confused about oregano, they thought that oregano is the essential herb to be used for pizza only, they also confused oregano and wild majorana! They look very much alike, but sorry, they are not the same herb.
We urged to fill the gap and explain them how to use oregano when cooking, with some tricks and tips.
The oregano plant is a perennial which grows up to two feet tall and bears tiny leaves which lend a pungent aroma and strong flavor to a variety of savory foods. While its gentler flavor is sweeter and its aroma not quite as pungent, marjoram belongs to the same family (Laminaceae) as the oregano (Origanum majorana and origanum vulgare). Wild marjoram has leaves which are slightly hairy and more gray-green in color. When in bloom, the plant or oregano sports pink or purple flowers which are also edible. The leaves are used fresh from the plant or dried. Oregano is one of the few herbs that is stronger when dried than when fresh.
My granny used to praise its therapeutical properties thanks to its active principles, fat, mineral salts, proteins and vitamins: analgesic, antalgic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and tonic. She used its brew to naturally cure cough, headache and rheumatic pains.

Back to cuisine, this is a fragrant and appetizing pasta dish, perfect to cook when your larder is almost empty or you have short time to spend in the kitchen or when you are just tempted by a good pasta dish.

Serves 4 pax

400g of ruled penne pasta
extra-virgin olive oil
1 big onion
1 tbsp tomato puree
grated parmesan cheese

1. Slice off finely the onion. Pour some extra-virgin olive oil in a frying pan and add the onion.
2.When it gets brown add a spoon of tomato puree and stir for a couple of seconds so to combine well the sauce, then add some oregano and taste as you go.
3.In the meanwhile, put a saucepan on to cook with water for the pasta and bring it to the boil. Add about 2 tbsp of salt and pour the penne.
4.Be careful to strain al dente then pour it into the frying pan stirring well the pasta and its sauce. Serve it in a bowl covering with parmesan cheese.

Tricks & Tips
* When using dried oregano, crush it in the palm of your hand before adding to the food. This helps release essential oils and revive flavor.
* Oregano can become overpowering and bitter if too much is used on foods with mild flavor. Taste as you go.
* Don't be afraid, try it out with salads, fish and meat!

My Norwegian friends went back home with half a kilo of dried oregano in their suitcases!

Buon appetito!

© Text and pictures by Doriana Briguglio

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