This week I’m trying some new recipes. Yesterday, I went with this paccheri pasta with ‘nduja and ricotta, and I think I’ve found a new comfort food.
It’s tasty. It’s spicy. And it’s cheesy. The Holy Trinity of my favorite meals.
It’s from Southern Italy, and although it requires some more steps than the quick pasta dishes that I recently shared, it’s still a very easy recipe, that requires only some good-quality ingredients.
What you need
This recipe has a strong local identity, and many of its ingredients are tied to southern regions of Calabria and Campania.
Here’s what you need.
Paccheri pasta: it’s a type of pasta made from durum wheat semolina, shaped like giant macaroni. Their name comes from the ancient Greek for “full-handed,” which gives an idea of how big they are. They are very common in Neapolitan cuisine. If you can’t find it, use regular-sized macaroni, or the largest kind of tubular pasta you can get your hands on.
‘Nduja: is a soft and spicy sausage made from the fatty parts of pork and Calabrian chili peppers, stuffed into a natural casing and then smoked. It is said to have originated in the town of Spilinga, and is one of the most famous Calabrian specialties.
I don’t know how easy it is to find PGI ‘nduja in the US, but Chuck shared a ‘nduja croquettes recipe so I guess it’s not impossible.
Grated caciocavallo cheese: a salty hard cheese typical of the southern Italian regions, made from cow’s milk and aged by a special process that involves hanging it from a rope. It is not the easiest cheese to find outside its places of origin, but it has such a distinctive flavor that I don’t think I can suggest any good alternatives.
Onions: this recipe is traditionally made with red Tropea onions, which are native to the same area as ‘nduja. If you don’t have any, get the freshest onions from your local grocery store.
Ricotta cheese: there are no local recommendations for this ingredient. Simply choose a good quality one.
Tomato puree: when it comes to vegetables, unless the recipe calls for specific ones, I think local is better. As with ricotta, the important thing is to choose a good puree, one that you would also like on its own.
Olive oil, salt, and ground pepper: you’ll need these to season the dressing and salt the pasta cooking water. I used a mix of 4 kinds of pepper I had at home, but ground black pepper is more than enough.
Now that we have all the ingredients, let’s make our pasta with ‘nduja & ricotta.
The preparation phase is simple. All you have to do is:
- Peel and dice the onion
- Separate the ‘nduja from its casing and cut it into pieces. You don’t need to make them small or precise: they will melt in the tomato sauce.
- Grate the caciocavallo cheese.
- Fill 3/4 of a pot with lukewarm water bring it to a boil.
If you want to start right away, you can do point 2 later, in the middle of the process.
Now, let’s turn on the heat.
Step 1: toss the diced onion into a saucepan with a drizzle of olive oil, and let it brown.
Step 2: add the tomato sauce and simmer for about 8 to 10 minutes.
Step 3: at this point, the water should be boiling. Add a handful of coarse salt, wait another minute, and drop in the paccheri pasta.
Step 4: if you haven’t done it before, cut the ‘nduja into pieces and let it simmer in the tomato puree for about 5 minutes. It will melt, creating a delicious, spicy sauce.
Step 5: in a bowl, mix the ricotta with the grated caciocavallo cheese and ground pepper. I’ve used a little more cheese than the amount listed in the recipe card below, so I had to smooth the mix out with a small amount of pasta cooking water.
Step 6: add the ricotta mix to the saucepan and let it simmer over low heat for a couple of minutes, stirring continuosly.
Step 7: now, all you have to do is to wait for the pasta to be ready. If you’re afraid to burn your sauce, set it aside from the heat for a while.
When the pasta is al dente toss it into the saucepan and mix over medium heat for another minute or two.
Serve your paccheri with ‘nduja & ricotta and add to each plate an extra sprinkle of grated cheese.
What to serve with it
This recipe is a complete meal. It has carbs, meat, dairy and vegetables. So, I would serve it with just a simple side salad.
Nothing complex, you can simply use the same vegetables along with some lettuce or arugula leaves.
If you’re not on a diet, I’d also serve some bread to make scarpetta. It is the act of cleaning the plate from all the leftover dressing by using pieces of bread and then eating it.
Wine: Go for a red full-bodied wine from Southern Italy. A Nero D’Avola should be fine.