Spaghetti alla Lanterna
The Hostaria La Vecchia Lanterna in Ortona (recipe link) was not our first choice for dinner the night we went there. Guided by cursory Google searches, star ratings, and proximity to our B&B, we tried - unsuccessfully - to walk in to a few of the town's flagship restaurants. We had spent the day biking and swimming along the Trabocchi Coast under the relentless July sun, so an aimless stroll along Ortona's main corso searching for dinner options would be short-lived.
When we arrived at the Hostaria, just a few blocks off the town's main drag, we realized that we found what should have been our first choice, and what will be our first choice every time we are in Ortona. Upon immediate observation, the Hostaria boasted all of the criteria I use to predict an unforgettable meal in Italy, notably:
A greeting, in Italian, by the owner at the door;
Walls adorned with photos - fading and more recent - of generations of regulars, the background of those photos indicating a largely unchanged dining room;
A menu solely in Italian, with antipasto through dolce courses comprising one page; and
Apart from us, there were no tourists in sight, and the patrons were local families, in some cases multigenerational.
This was Sam's pasta course as I elected to have the lamb and pepper ragu, which you can read about here. As the name denotes, this is the Hostaria's house preparation, and we were both impressed with the presentation as neither of us have seen spaghetti atop a cauliflower puree before. After one bite, though, it was clear how special this dish is. The spaghetti alla lanterna is a trinity of textures - smooth, chewy, and crunchy - delivering distinct flavors in perfect harmony. Pasta courses aren't usually this elevated or this aspirational; chefs tend to place the pasta itself as the star of the plate with the sauce being complementary. Spaghetti alla lanterna, however, is like a jazz trio producing art far greater than the mere sum of its parts.
So, naturally, we had to try a copycat recipe. I made the three components based on the memory of one or two bites (Sam was understandably reluctant to share more of it), so I'm sure the staff of the Hostaria - if they read this - will likely disagree with my process, but I think it turned out pretty good. I don't recall a sauce on the pasta, so I took the liberty of preparing the spaghetti with a quick lemon butter sauce. Roasted cauliflower pairs nicely with a squirt of lemon, as do the anchovy bread crumbs.
THE BREAD CRUMBS
½ cup plain bread crumbs
4 anchovy filets
½ tsp red pepper flakes (pinch more for garnish)
1 tsp oregano
3 tbsp evoo
THE CAULIFLOWER PUREE
1 head of cauliflower, florets removed from the stem
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
½ cup or more evoo (additional for garnish)
½ lb (500g) spaghetti alla chitarra (or any bronze-extruded spaghetti)
3 tbsp butter
parsley, for garnish
1---Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and bring a large pot of water to boil. When boiling, salt the water liberally.
2---Toss the cauliflower florets, garlic, and shallot in olive oil, salt, and pepper to coat. Arrange on a baking sheet, and place into the preheated oven. Roast for about 30-40 minutes, flipping the ingredients individually on occasion for even roasting.
3---Pour about 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil into a small, non-stick pan and heat until fragrant. Add the anchovy filets and allow them to melt into the oil (about 5-7 minutes). Once melted, add the bread crumbs and toss to evenly incorporate the oil throughout. Sprinkle the salt, pepper, oregano, and red pepper flakes, then stir the bread crumbs. Let them cook until they begin to toast and brown, set aside.
4---Once roasted, place the cauliflower, garlic, and shallot into a food processor. Pour in at least ½ cup of olive oil and pulse until roughly achieving a puree consistency. If the mixture is still chunky, it can be adjusted later with the pasta water while boiling the spaghetti. Set the puree aside and keep warm.
5---Drop the spaghetti into the boiling, salted water, and let cook until it is a few minutes away from being done according to the package directions (or the chef’s preference). Add some of the salty, starchy pasta water to the food processor to further smooth the cauliflower puree. Taste the puree for seasoning and salt/pepper to adjust as necessary.
6---In a sautee pan over high heat, melt the butter, and squeeze the juice of one lemon into the butter. Add a pinch of black pepper to the lemon butter sauce and move the pan to incorporate evenly. Using a spider strainer or tongs, remove the pasta from the water and toss in the lemon butter. Add a ladle or two of the pasta water and a few pinches of grated parmigiano reggiano to the sauce, and toss vigorously. The pasta is done when the sauce has reduced and thickened to generously coat the pasta, and not pool at the bottom of the pan.
7---Spoon the cauliflower puree onto a plate, and using a ladle and tongs, place a portion of the spaghetti atop the puree. Dust generously with the bread crumbs, and garnish with olive oil, parsley, and red pepper flakes. Serve with more fresh grated parmigiano reggiano.