Rich, Earthy, as tan and brown as an Umbrian landscape, I give you Pasta Alla Norcina. Let me start
by telling you that this was again me playing “CHOPPED” with what was in my refrigerator. The
entire recipe started with 2 fresh sausages and a container of unsauced leftover Cappellini. Just so
you know, Cappellini(Angel Hair) is not the right pasta for this dish, so, there, now it’s out there and I can’t take it
back. I will not apologize for this breach of the recipe contract only because the largest breach of
contract comes from not utilizing everything in your refrigerator. I will give myself points for that one.
The refrigerator also had 1/2 pint of cremini mushrooms that needed my attention and 1/2 cup of
heavy cream that also was screaming to be used. Everything came together when I remembered the
classic dish (sauce) from Umbria for pasta called NORCINA. Norcia is a town in Umbria, most
famous for being the birthplace of the brother and sister duo, Benedict and Scholastica, who founded
the Benedictine order of Monks. The other is the intense food culture which has pigs at it’s center.
So hallowed is the Pig in Norcia that the word NORCINERIA is given to butcher shops where the em-
phasis is on pork, especially sausages. The other claim to fame are their truffles and mushrooms.
All of these factor heavily in their food ways and this sauce seems to be a real triumph of all those good
Start with the sausage..unlike the Southern Italians, Umbrians do not use fennel in their sausage, just
pork, pork fat, red wine, salt and pepper. Umbria by the way is a region in Central Italy.It’s sort of a bridge
between the tomato and olive oil South and the butter, cream and polenta filled North. For Pasta alla
Norcina for 4-6 , you will need 4 links of Italian Sweet Sausage, without Fennel.
Slit the casings with a sharp knife and remove the meat.
In a large wide skillet, heat 2 tbs. of olive oil then add the crumbled sausage meat. Dice a medium
sized onion and set aside. Move the sausage around so it doesn’t only brown on one side. After
10 minutes on medium heat, add the onions, and 3 fresh chopped sage leaves, and 1 tsp. fresh
chopped thyme. The sausage already is seasoned with salt, so only add a little to season the onions.
Move the onions and sausage around the pan, add 1/2
tsp. of peperoncino and cook this for a good 7 minutes. Chop 6 Cremini or Porcini Mushrooms into
a fine dice and add that to the pan. Let this saute’ for a good 5 minutes, make sure those mushrooms
are diced finely…or it will throw the cooking of the sauce of…Now add 1 thinly sliced clove of garlic…let
it get fragrant (i love saying that…because it does!!) about 2 minutes. Now, add 1/2 cup of White Wine,
deglaze the pan all around so all the bits of meat on the bottom. This is sometimes referred to as the
FOND (that really means the deglazed pan juices, but many use the term to denote the bits that are
caramelized on the bottom of the pan)..regardless of the technical term..it’s a boatload of immense
and deep flavor. Through out those over salty boullion cubes…this is where you will get concentrated
flavor from. Make sure you use your wooden spoon or spatula to pull those bits off the bottom and
turn the wine a nice brownish color. Let the mixture cook on medium for at least another 5 minutes,
or until the onions turn soft and translucent.
Now pour the cream into the pan and stir it around.
Are you noticing that I’m not using any addi-
tional fat like butter, or thickeners like flour to create this cream sauce….?? How can you make such
kitchen magic you say? Ha…I’m no magician, a full bodied natural product like Heavy Cream and slow
heat will perform that magic for you. This “trick” I absolutely learned in Italy. There was something
different in Italy with their cream sauces for pasta..and that something is ..it’s just cream. Let this
simmer with eh sausage and mushroom mixture and in 20 minutes, it will have reduced considerably
and will have changed into a thick and deep colored sauce.
Now like SO many Italian and homecooking recipes, this Classic will have variations from cook to cook
or chef to chef or family to family. I researched as much as I could on this sauce and these were the
ingredients that came up the most : Umbrian sausage, onions, small bit of garlic, olive oil, Heavy Cream,
Parmigiano, mushrooms, wine, sage and/or thyme, a bit of hot dried chile pepper..Truffles showed up
very frequently, but since mushrooms did as well, and I had them I added the mushrooms to my dish…less
frequently, but still common to many recipes was anchovies, peas, parsley, pancetta. I had some frozen
peas so I thought it would be a nice touch. For those who are non-pea lovers, omitting this is not a mortal
sin. For those who like peas (I LOVE PEAS!) add 1/4 cup frozen peas into the sauce, just let it simmer for
another 5 minutes, then turn the sauce off. That’s right..FLAVOR MELDING WILL NOW HAPPEN. Push
the sauce to the back of the stove while you cook 1 lb. of Penne (most proper for the dish) or Cappellini
as I did here according to the package directions just till al dente (are you sick of me saying that yet? un-
fortunately, that’s too bad, it’s the way macaroni is meant to be eaten, you will not serve mush on my watch).
Isn’t that awesome? We are
not done yet…drain the pasta and then add it to the pasta and on a low flame, for only about 3 minutes,
warm the pasta in the sauce.
Remove from the heat. Stop, no eating yet. Add 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to this
masterpiece you just created. Always add the cheese at the end, especially with a cream sauce. Mix
well and let this sit for a few minutes so the cheese becomes part of the dish.
Time to eat..for 4-6. A wonderful dish of pasta and meat for you and your family or friends. Buon Appetito
from the Umbrian countryside…or New Jersey,
Add a little extra cheese when serving if you like…I like..