This was a dish I made up on the spot one day, finding a few stray links of sausage and some leftover ricotta in my fridge, and some frozen peas at the bottom of the freezer, to serve as a condimento for some calamarata pasta I had in the pantry. The result was very good indeed–I thought I had stumbled on a new classic, until I check it out on internet and found that, yes, the dish, or something very much like it, already exists. The dish, rigatoni alle salsicce e ricotta, is from Molise, one of the less known regions of Italy, on the Adriatic coast, south of Abruzzo and north of Puglia.
In any event, original or not, this recipe is a good illustration of the pasta’s versatility—you can pair just about anything with it, so it is the perfect way to use up odds and ends you might have on hand, the kind of dish that the Italians call svuotafrigo or ’empty the fridge’. In a dish like this, take the measurements given below as mere suggestions, to give you a sense of proportions—just use up as much or as little as you have on hand.
Makes 4-6 servings
- 500g (1 lb.) calamarata or other stubby pasta (see Notes)
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped, or a slightly crushed garlic clove
- Olive oil
- 5 links of mild Italian sausage (or what ever kind you have on hand), uncased and crumbled up
- 2-3 ripe tomatoes, chopped up (optional)
- A few dollops of ricotta cheese, to taste
- Salt and pepper
- Grated pecorino romano
Sauté the onion or garlic in olive oil and, when the is soft or the garlic slightly brown, add the crumbled sausage meat and allow it to brown gently until it has just lost it raw look. (The meat should not caramelize.) Season well and add peas and (if using) tomatoes, and allow everything to simmer together for five minutes or so.
While the condimento is cooking, boil the pasta in well salted water until al dente, then drain (not too well) add to the sauce. Mix well over low heat, then add the ricotta and just a bit of grated or shaved pecorino. Mix again and serve, topped with additional pecorino for those who like it.
You could make this dish with just about any pasta you have around the house. I thought that the calamarata pasta—a very wide, smooth pasta similar to paccheri, were particularly nice, but I’ve made this dish with chiocciole (shells) with equally delicious results. And more commonly found pastas like rigatoni or penne would do fine as well, although I think that some kind of concave shaped pasta would be best, as they tend to ‘catch’ the bits and pieces of sausage and peas within their cavities.
You would normally add a ladleful of the hot pasta water to a sauce mixed with ricotta cheese to loosen it a bit and smooth it out. But calamarata pasta is one of the those (like shells) that tend to carry a lot water in their insides when drained, so simply don’t drain them too well and you should have enough liquid to form a nice, smooth sauce.