It’s the word most frequently used by Italian mothers when addressing their children. “Eat,” they command, placing a plate of pasta in front of you.

It’s Mother’s Day, la Festa della Mamma, and we thought about writing a tribute to the mamma Italiana.  But that’s complicated. A lot has been written on the topic already, sometimes humorous, other times studious, and most of those articles discuss the devoted Italian mother and the 30+ year old son who still lives at home. Instead of adding our voice to that conversation, we’ll just move on to pasta.

After all, we have an American mom stateside who was nothing but supportive when her daughter married an Italian and started a family in Rome, and an Italian mamma who was strong and supportive when her Italian son and American daughter-in-law later decided to move their family back across the ocean.

This weekend we prepared a fun and colorful pasta dish, paccheri con pomodorini e rucolaPaccheri, originally from Naples, resemble giant, smooth maccheroni. A simple sauce of fresh cherry tomatoes and peppery arugula, one of our favorite combinations, is complimented by ricotta salata, (a sheep’s cheese made from pressed, salted and dried ricotta) grated on top.

1 package (500 grams) paccheri
2 cartons (2 pints, or approx. 340 grams) cherry tomatoes
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic
Ricotta salata

Place a large pot of water to on high heat to boil. Halve the cherry tomatoes and set aside. Halve the garlic cloves, and sauté in the olive oil inside a large skillet. Remove them just as they begin to brown, and discard. Add the cherry tomatoes to the skillet and cook over medium low heat for 10-15 minutes, until they break down. Press the tomatoes slightly while they are cooking to help them release their liquid and pulp. Salt lightly to taste.

When the water boils, add a heaping handful of salt to the water, and then add the paccheri.  Allow the pasta to cook al dente according to the directions on the package. Carefully stir from time to time to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom and sides of the pan.

When the paccheri are cooked, drain and add them to the skillet with the tomatoes. Toss in 2 handfuls of arugula. Stir, turn the heat onto medium-low, and cover for 2-3 minutes. Uncover, stir again, and let cook for another 2-3 minutes or until the arugula is just wilted.

Serve immediately with a sprinkling of grated ricotta salata on top.

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