Saturday, July 26, 2014

Pasta alla Norcina

This September, I will have the great good fortune to spend a week in Tuscany with wonderful friends. As a side-effect, I've been trying some more non-traditional Italian fare. Oh, I still love a good Bolognese (and mine kicks ass, if I do say so my own self) but I wanted to try a pasta that did not include either tomato or pesto.  And lo and behold, I came across Pasta alla Norcina.

The sauce is based on pork. And cream. Yes, you heard me right. Pork and cream. Add in a naked soccer team and you have nature's most perfect food. But I digress...

Here's what you need:

1 lb ground pork
10 oz cremini/baby bella mushrooms
1 lb orecchiette pasta (would also work with rotini or cavatini)
3/4 cup cream
1 cup white wine
3/4 cup pecorino
Olive Oil
Baking Soda

So, the authentic Norcina uses a pork sausage from Norcia, a little town in Perugia. Since I'm not in Perugia, and I'm guessing you're not either, it's time to improvise. Take your pound of ground pork, and throw it in a bowl. Add a little bit of water, about a half teaspoon of salt, and maybe 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. Take a spatula and smear it around in the bowl until it's all combined.  Add some garlic, black pepper and rosemary, mix it again and set it aside to sit for about 15 minutes or so.

While the pork is resting, throw the creminis in a food processor and pulse a few times until they're pretty finely chopped. You could do this by hand, of course, but then you'd have forearms like Popeye and really, what's the point?

In a large skillet or saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil until it shimmers but doesn't smoke. Throw the pork into the pan and brown, about 5 or 6 minutes. Remove the pork, place in a bowl and pour in the cream. Let it sit there getting good and creamy/porky.

Now, throw the mushrooms in the pan with a pinch of salt and some more garlic. Cook until browned and dry, about 5 minutes. Pour in the wine, scrape all the brown bits (fond, if you're pretentious) up, and cook on medium-high until the wine is 95% evaporated. OK, I made up the percentage. Just cook until it's almost dry.

Then, pour the porky cream mixture into the pan. Cook on medium until it starts to thicken. Take it off the heat, and add the pecorino and some fresh basil, chopped or chiffonade, if you intend to keep on being pretentious. I don't judge.

Of course, while all of this is going on, you also have to cook your pasta. 1 gallon water, 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil, dump in the pasta and cook it how you like it. I will admit, in print, that I am not a fan of al dente.  Perhaps it's my New England upbringing, but I'm not really fond of something that's not cooked all the way through when it comes to noodles.  If the box says "11 minutes" for al dente, I'll cook it for 12.

Drain the pasta, reserving a cup or so of the pasta water. Dump the pasta in the pan with the sauce, and stir to coat it well. If it's a little thick, add some of the pasta water.

Salt & Pepper to taste, and add a sprinkle of the pecorino on top, just to be fancy.