Tuesday, February 15, 2011


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.


  1. Wow I have lots of cousins in Calabria my brother visited there a few years ago, I will have to try this recipe it looks like something my whole family will adore...I love everything in this one! Bellissimo!

  2. Often the simple dishes are the best, Arlene. I love to prepare dishes that are reminiscent of family history. I'm looking forward to trying this.

  3. Love this...I have some mascarpone I might try this recipe using that.

  4. Arlene, this really sounds wonderful. Food that comes with memories attached is the very best of all. I hope you have a pleasant evening in that lovely log home. Blessings...Mary

  5. Wow is that a good looking pasta dish! They way I've been craving sausage lately I think I would probably inhale this one.

    I'm glad to hear you're researching on Ancestry.com. I've been thinking about trying it myself. Good luck on your research. I'm sure it will be a fun project.

  6. It sounds like a beautiful book and that pasta dish looks so creamy and delicious. It's wonderful that you are creating your family tree too. ;-)

  7. I love that you decided on this cookbook and recipe because of your ancestry. It looks wonderful.

    Ricotta--I'm like that too. Normally I don't like it, but there are a few places where it works for me.

  8. My daughter gave me this cookbook for Christmas! I have to admit I haven't made anything form it as yet, but my husband taught me how to prepare this ricotta sauce when we were first married and it has always been a family favorite. He's from Calabria! :)

  9. I love ricotta!!! Thanks for sharing~

  10. It is interesting to read others history of their family! I am half Italian/Sicilian.
    We know alot of the history as we are only 2nd generation here, but not over in the Old Country! I would love to go and find some of the relatives there....but also a little scared as I have heard Sicily was sort of known as a Cutthroat country.

  11. The way you described this recipe, I can almost smell the sweet Italian sausage cooking in my grandmother's kitchen! I never saw my mother or grandmother add the warm pasta water to the ricotta so you have taught me something new! All 4 of my grandparents are from Palma Campania in the province of Naples. Do you know the town where your ancestors lived? I have been working on my family tree for 35 years! Let me know if I can help you in any way. Genealogy research is my bliss, dangerously addicting. :)


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