Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pasta alla Norcina

I love Italian food, and pasta is one of my favorite comfort foods. Some work nights, when I'm totally beat, pasta becomes my kind of fast food. I can have dinner on the table in 30 minutes and we're all happy campers.

There are so many versions of pasta that I have yet to discover. A few years ago, I made a Sardinian Pasta with Semolina Gnocchi. That was fun to do, and also delicious!  In this month's issue of Cook's Illustrated, a recipe for Pasta alla Norcina was one of the many recipes that intrigued me.

Norcia, in the mountains of southeastern Umbria, is famous for it’s black truffles and pork, particularly sausages and salami. This  recipe, created to highlight Umbria’s delicious sausages can be found all across the region. Umbrian sausage is the traditional ingredient for this cream sauce, but it's not easy to find.  I always find it interesting to read how Cook's Illustrated finds a workaround when a particular ingredient isn't readily available in our local supermarket.

Their solution was by starting with store-bought ground pork and making a strong brine with salt to speed its effect. To ensure the juiciest (and most flavorful) possible sausage, they added baking soda and seared the sausage in the form of a patty (seasoned with garlic and rosemary) on both sides before chopping it into small pieces and gently finishing it in the sauce of cream, wine, and mushrooms.

I hoard all kinds of pasta, and orecchiette ("little ears") is one of my personal favorites.

When cooked to just "al dente" we like their thick, slightly chewy texture.

 I love how the orecchiette has little pockets that fill with the creme sauce and bits of sauce.

I didn't find the recipe to be really difficult to make, and I was able to serve this to my family in about 45 minutes.  There's some washing of bowls and a food processor to deal with, though, so I wouldn't say this is "fast food". Please forgive that there isn't any fancy kind of food styling to this dish-- this is a work night, after all, and I'm blogging in real time!  

TASTING NOTES:  My son really liked the cream sauce.  Some of you might be asking if you trim back the calories, by using a low-fat milk or half and half. The answer is-- I don't know! I don't make cream sauces on a regular basis, but to me, there is nothing like the silky texture and rich flavor that comes from heavy cream.  Pecorino Romano cheese is what the original recipe uses, but unfortunately my taste buds don't like that cheese (and I loathe goat cheese).  Instead, I used Parmigiano Reggiano. Either way, I suggest adding only half the cheese to the sauce, and giving it a taste. The Parmigiano Reggiano is a bit on the salty side, so I'm glad that I didn't go crazy with it.  The lemon juice, to me is crucial as the acidity balances out the saltiness from the cheese.  One more thing-- I think that adding red pepper flakes is something I would suggest. I like how it kicks up the flavor a notch or two.  
This is a comforting dish, and a nice change from ordinary spaghetti with a tomato sauce. This made four helpings. It's a good thing, because my son went back for seconds. My husband reads my blog. I wonder what he'll think when he realizes that there was finely chopped cremini mushrooms in the sauce? You really can't see them, but the mushrooms add a nice earthy flavor in the background.
TO REHEAT:  If you have leftovers, I splashed in a little chicken broth and reheated in the microwave. I then dumped all the reheated pasta into a skillet, and splashed some fresh heavy cream and reduced it for a couple of minutes. Perfect!

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bellini said...

I am intrigued Debbie. We all enjoy Italian food and are always looking for something a little different.

Bailie @ The Hemborg Wife said...

This sounds wonderful and as ground pork is the go to here in Sweden I always have some handy thanks for posting!

Big Dude said...

Growing up in a town with about half Italians, it is my favorite food, even though we don't eat it that often. This dish sounds super good and must me tried - like you, I like the way the little ears hold the sauce.

Bill said...

I'm with you on pasta! It's one of my favorite comfort foods. I'm trying to lighten things up post-holiday, but I'm keeping this recipe in mind for when I get my weight back in control! Great post, Debby!

Joanne said...

I always love hearing CI's crazy methods!! I wonder how they come up with them.

Noelle Marie said...

I love these little pastas! This looks so rich and tasty. Mmm...

The Site said...

Oooh this must be really yummy

Celyn PS said...

oh wow this looks good! definitely going to give this recipe a try! thanks for sharing!

GirlsAreDolls said...

This looks amazing

Maggie said...

I saw this last week on America's Test Kitchen. I loved the recipe and am making it today for 5 friends. I'm making a double batch for the big appetites that are coming. They are my guinea pigs and happy about it! Where I live the tastes are simple. Near the beach on the Eastern Shore and lots of farm country, there isn't a lot of "gourmet" cooking going on around here (except for me :) So it was nearly impossible to find the orecchiette. I went to every grocery store within 15 miles (there are only a few) and no one had any. So I was going to have to settle for pipettes. But as the little hats are also one of my very favorites, I made on last ditch effort and drove another 25 miles to a Harris Teeter and found my beloved orrecchiette!!! I don't think the dish would be quite the same without them.

Debby Foodiewife said...

Yay, for finding the pasta, Maggie. Enjoy!