Pasta alla Norcina
Pasta Alla Norcina is a pasta dish that showcases flavorful pork sausage in a light cream sauce. This creamy comfort dish originated in the Italian village of Norcia, located in the southeastern part of the Umbrian region of Italy. Umbrian sausage is the traditional ingredient for this cream sauce, but it's not easy to find. To "mimic" this sausage, this recipe uses ground pork, seasoned with garlic and herbs. Finely minced mushrooms and white wine helps to round out the flavor of this cream sauce, with minced cooked pork "sausage". You can serve this with any kind of pasta, but we love orecchiette ("little ears"). The small round pasta becomes a tiny bowl, that holds the sauce-- and we love the slight chewy texture. This recipe comes from Cook's Illustrated (with some minor adaptions).
- Kosher salt and pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 8 ounces ground pork
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1/4 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, trimmed
- 7 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 pound orecchiette
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 1/2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese*, grated (3/4 cup)
- 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- Parmigiano Reggiano, to taste
Preparation time 30mins
Cooking time 55mins
Adapted from foodiewife-kitchen.blogspot.com
Cook's Illustrated Notes:
For an authentic-tasting version, we had to make our own sausage. We streamlined the process 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, we added baking soda and seared the sausage in the form of a patty on both sides before chopping it into small pieces and gently finishing it in the sauce of cream, wine, and mushrooms.
Grease large dinner plate with vegetable oil spray. Dissolve 1⅛ teaspoons salt and baking soda in 4 teaspoons water in medium bowl. Add pork and fold gently to combine; let stand for 10 minutes.
Add 1 teaspoon garlic, 3/4 teaspoon rosemary, nutmeg, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper to pork and smear with rubber spatula until well combined and tacky, 10 to 15 seconds. Transfer pork mixture to greased plate and form into rough 6-inch patty.
Pulse mushrooms in food processor until finely chopped, 10 to 12 pulses.
Heat 2 teaspoons oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add patty and cook without moving it until bottom is browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip patty and continue to cook until second side is well browned, 2 to 3 minutes longer (very center of patty will be raw).
Remove pan from heat, transfer sausage to cutting board, and chop into 1/8- to 1/4-inch pieces. Transfer sausage to bowl and add cream; set aside.
Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven. Add pasta and 2 tablespoons salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1 1/2 cups cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot.
While pasta cooks, return now-empty skillet to medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil, mushrooms, and ⅛ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are browned, 5 to 7 minutes.
Stir in remaining 2 teaspoons oil, remaining garlic, remaining 1/2 teaspoon rosemary, and ½ teaspoon pepper (and red pepper flakes, if using); cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in wine, scraping up any browned bits, and cook until completely evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in sausage-cream mixture and ¾ cup reserved cooking water and simmer until meat is no longer pink, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in Pecorino (or Parmigiano Reggiano) until smooth.
NOTE: You might want to add half of the cheese and taste, at first. Sometimes, the cheese can add a lot of salty flavor. Add more, if you desire.
Add sauce, parsley, and lemon juice to pasta and toss well to coat.
Before serving, adjust consistency with remaining reserved cooking water as needed and season with salt and pepper to taste.
TASTING NOTES: Personally, I think the red pepper flakes add a nice extra kick. The lemon juice adds a nice acidity and balance to the saltiness of the pork sausage and cheese.
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