Pasta alla Norcina alla Madness of Joy (U.B.C. – Day 27)

2014-04-28 00.15.12

Traditional pasta alla norcina is a dish that combines flavorful pork sausage in a light cream sauce. I loved this type of a dish as a child, however, since making the decision to keep a vegetarian diet, I’ve been trying to rework many of my old favorites. Because a large number of standbys are so dependent on meat, I’ve ended up creating entirely new recipes, and the one below is no different.

The original recipe comes from America’s Test Kitchen (thank you, Christopher Kimball and company), but the similarity pretty much ends there.*

My version is spicier and has more bite than the original.  I’m pretty particular with some seasonings.  I’ve tried a lot and find that the ones listed provide the smoothest flavor without overwhelming the dish. For me, food is like fine wine. I like to be able to taste all the ingredients. Of course, you can always use those that you have around the house, but you might want to tweak the amounts down in order to get the flavor you want.

This recipe serves 6, or 3 with really hearty appetites. If you have a full family eating, you might want to double everything.  Then you may have enough for leftovers!

2 tbsp table salt
1/2 tsp fleur del sel
1/2 tsp McCormick’s ground white pepper
1/4 tsp baking soda
3 fresh garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, minced (dried will also work, but be sure to crush the twigs before adding to the sauce, otherwise you’ll be picking little twigs out of your mouth as you eat)
8 ounces bella or cremini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
3 tbsp plus 2 tsp olive oil (the tbsp will be used for cooking, the 2 tsp will go into the sauce)
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound orecchiette/conchigliette (small shells)**
1/2 cup dry white wine***
4 ounces grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (Minute Maid frozen will also do)
3 tbsp fresh parsley, minced

1. Bring 4 quarts water, 2 tbsp olive oil, and 2 tbsp table salt to boiling in a large pot. Add pasta and cook until al dente.**** Stir often, as orecchiette and shells are prone to sticking and nesting together. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water and set aside,then drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
2. In 12-inch skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil, 1/4 tsp salt and garlic over medium heat. Add mushrooms and cook 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are browned.
3. Stir in the remaining 2 tsp olive oil, 1/2 tsp rosemary, and 1/2 tsp white pepper. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
4. Stir in wine, scraping up any browned bits, and then cook until completely evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes.
5. Stir in heavy cream, lemon juice, baking soda, and 3/4 cup of the reserved cooking water. Simmer 2 to 3 minutes.
6. Remove from heat and stir in grated Pecorino cheese until smooth.
7. Add sauce and parsley to pasta in the pot and toss well to coat. If the consistency of the sauce does not meet your taste, adjust with remaining reserved cooking water and season with salt and pepper to taste.


* If you’re looking for the original recipe, you will need to sign up for a membership to America’s Test Kitchen. A year membership runs $34.95, but you can sign up for a free 14-day trial membership if you just want to try it out first.

** You can use any pasta shape you want, but these two shapes of pasta act as a sort of bowl to hold the sauce.

*** I generally use Roero Arneis by Bruno Giacosa, an Italian wine from the Piedmont region of Italy, for any recipes that call for dry white wine, as I find the taste crisper.  Plus, it’s nice to be able to drink with dinner the same wine you’ve used to cook, and Bruno Giacosa wines are quite approachable and drinkable.

**** Most pasta brands have cooking guidelines on the packaging that will tell you how long to cook in order to obtain firm, al dente, or soft pasta. If there is only one cooking time listed, that will usually be the time required for al dente pasta.


3 thoughts on “Pasta alla Norcina alla Madness of Joy (U.B.C. – Day 27)

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