I decided to get a subscription to Cooks Illustrated – again. I’ve had an on-again/off-again love affair with them for years.  I generally like their recipes, but they can annoy the hell out of me with their three pages of how they got there. I really really enjoy the science behind food – it’s why I used to really like Alton Brown before he became Mr Food Network Whatever He Is – but sometimes the path they take to get to a place completely changes the dish they wanted to make over to the point that it no longer even resembles its former self.

And then, they come up with something that is genuinely great – like this pasta dish. I’ve never had the original so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but this is pretty darned good. Even Nonna cleaned her plate.

The premise is browning the sausage in a large patty instead of crumbling it up – to keep it from drying out but still getting some nice browned bits. In theory, it succeeded, but I think cooking it crumbled but just not cooking it all the way through would also work – and be a bit easier. Next time.

Regardless, it was a hit. It makes a ton, so Victor and Nonna had it for lunch, today, as well.  I think it would be good with some asparagus tips cooked in the sauce, as well…

Pasta alla Norcina

adapted from Cooks Illustrated magazine

  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 4 ounces ground pork
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/4 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 lb orecchiette
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Grease small dinner plate with oil. Dissolve 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp baking soda in 2 tsp water in medium bowl. Add pork and fold gently to combine; let stand for 10 minutes.

Add 1 tsp garlic, 3/4 tsp rosemary, nutmeg, and 3/4 tsp pepper to pork and stir and smear with rubber spatula until well combined and tacky – about 10-15 seconds. Transfer pork mixture to greased plate and form into a 6″ patty.

Pulse mushrooms in food processor until finely chopped, 10 to 12 pulses.

Heat 2 tsp oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork patty and cook without moving it until bottom is browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip patty and continue to cook until second side is well browned, 1 to 2 minutes longer (center of patty will be raw). Remove pan from heat, transfer sausage to cutting board, and roughly chop into 1/8- to 1/4-inch pieces. Transfer sausage to bowl and add cream; set aside.

Cook orecchiette according to package instructions. Reserve a cup of cooking water, then drain pasta.

While pasta cooks, add 1 tbsp oil to skillet and heat. Add mushrooms and a pinch salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in remaining remaining garlic and 1/2 tsp rosemary. Stir in wine, scraping up any browned bits, and cook until completely evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir in sausage-cream mixture and about 1/2 cup reserved cooking water and simmer until meat is no longer pink.

Remove pan from heat and stir in Pecorino until smooth.

Add sauce, parsley, and lemon juice to pasta and toss well to coat. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Add additional pasta water if desired to thin sauce.