Tuesday, February 15, 2011
PASTA ALLA PASTORA
It's only natural that most of my Italian-inspired cooking hails from the region of Campania which is in the province of Naples. My mother's family hails from that southern Italian region, though both her parents were born in the United States. My father's parents, on the other hand, were born in the region of Calabria though, sadly, I do not know the exact place of their birth. I've just begun trying to construct a family tree, using Ancestry.com. So when I happened upon a cookbook entitled My Calabria by Rosetta Costantino, I knew I had to add it to my collection. As much an armchair travel book as a cookbook, it's been on my lamp table for several weeks now. My paternal grandmother died when I was about 3 years old, so I remember very little about her except my mother's stories of her wonderful homemade bread and pizza. I know, as well, that she raised and butchered her own chickens, kept an extensive vegetable garden, and was a wonderful stitcher--perhaps my love for embroidery has its origins there.
I chose to begin my introduction to this other side of my heritage with a simple pasta dish--pasta alla pastora, which is a shepherd's-style rigatoni with ricotta and sausage. A humble dish, it uses ingredients that a Calabrian shepherd would have on hand: fresh ricotta and a bit of sausage.
Serves 6 - 8
3/4 lb fresh sweet or hot Italian sausage
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 lb homemade ricotta (or good quality, whole milk ricotta)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb rigatoni or penne
freshly grated pecorino cheese
red pepper flakes, optional
Remove the sausage casings. Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage meat, breaking it into small clumps about the size of an olive. Cook until browned all over; keep warm.
Press the homemade ricotta through a sieve. Or, place the store-bought ricotta in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Bring 5 quarts of water to a rapid boil. Add 1/4 cup Kosher salt, then add the pasta and cook to the al dente stage (10-13 minutes, depending on the shape used). Just before the pasta is done, add 3-5 tbs of the pasta water to the ricotta to warm it and make it creamy and sauce-like. Set aside another 1/2-3/4 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and add it to the skillet with the sausage. Toss over high heat until it's hot throughout, then add to the bowl with the ricotta. Add some pasta water and toss until the pasta is coated with the sauce. Add the pecorino and serve immediately.
Let me start by saying I'm not a big fan of ricotta. However, in this dish, it is ethereal. This simple to make dish was incredibly satisfying. I could have eaten half the bowl, but exercised restraint. There was just enough fat in the dish between the olive oil and the sausage renderings to transform the ricotta into a silken sauce. You do need that pasta water to thin the sauce. Because there are just 2 of us (and lots of leftovers), I saved a jar of the pasta water. I'll heat it and add it to the pasta before reheating it. While I'm sure it won't be as lovely as it was when freshly made, I'm looking forward to those leftovers already. Do try this. It sounds way too simple to be so wonderful, but I promise you it is. I would serve this to guests in a heartbeat.