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Rigatoni with Ricotta and Sausage

April 15, 2011

You’d think that after having posted 14 different pasta recipes – and making countless more – I’d have the whole thing down. Especially when it comes to a weekday, throw-it-together kind of pasta. The kind of pasta that I should be able to make with my eyes closed, and at least have it turn out edible.

Sadly, that is not the case.

The moment I saw this pasta at, I needed to make it. Even the name sounded sexy. It looked simple, authentic and satisfying. My kind of food. These first impressions would have probably held true if I hadn’t screwed up. Looking back, I think I know where things went wrong and why we were waking up in the middle of the night to guzzle water.

But before I get into my messiness, I want to stress that with proper attention and hindsight, this pasta would be delicious. It’s just an uncomplicated combination of browned sausage, fresh ricotta, pasta water, freshly ground pepper and some herbs. You brown the bits of sausage then mix them with the ricotta and herbs, then, when the pasta’s ready, mix it all together with enough pasta water to form a gorgeous sauce.

Too simple. Right?

That assumption was where my problems started. I didn’t pay enough attention, and, somewhere along the line, I managed to oversalt the pasta water to the point that just adding a small amount made the pasta almost inedible. Either that, or the innocuous looking sausage was actually laced with half a pound of salt hidden in the fatty bits. So the salt was problem number one. The other problem was that I was overly enthusiastic with the ricotta. We had gone to the best little cheese shop in little Italy to get their made fresh daily, unbelievably tasty ricotta so, naturally, I used an unbelievably disproportionate amount. It was like eating extremely salty ricotta with some pasta and sausage.

Poor Francesco didn’t say anything at all. He even managed to finish his bowl – and two or three…or four…glasses of wine to help. Hence the deserted island dreams. It was like that time he single-handedly finished half of an entire leg of homemade wild boar prosciutto. Parched doesn’t even begin to describe it.

And so, after all that lamenting, here is the recipe. Which, in and of itself, is full of potential and, given over to someone with restraint and common sense, would produce a delicious, simple, easy dinner worthy of any table. While sometimes my failures will turn me off a dish for the rest of time, this one begs repeating. It deserves better. Or at least a lighter hand.


Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a starter or second course, and can be halved. Recipe adapted from Rosetta Costantino, via Saveur. Be sure to go easy on the salt in the pasta water – you can always add more later! Go heavy, on the other hand, with the pepper. It’s a lovely contrast to the creamy cheese.

1 box (1 lb. / 500 grams) rigatoni or mezze maniche
1 lb. / 500 grams Italian sausage, removed from casing
1 lb. / 500 grams cows’ milk or sheep’s milk ricotta
lots of freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. roughly chopped parsley
1/4 cup torn basil leaves
1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. When boiling, add a few big pinches of salt, then add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 12 minutes. Ladle out and reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain and reserve pasta.

While the water is coming to boil, break the sausage into small, olive-size chunks. Heat a glug of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, put the ricotta in a very large bowl, the biggest one you’ve got. Add a lot of pepper, to taste. Whisk 1/4 cup of the hot pasta water into the ricotta to make it creamy and saucy. Over high heat, add the pasta to the skillet with the sausage and 1/2 cup pasta water; stir vigorously to combine. Transfer the pasta and sausage to the bowl with the ricotta and mix well, adding some of the reserved pasta cooking water as needed to moisten the pasta. Stir in parsley and basil. Spoon the pasta into bowls and sprinkle with the pecorino and black pepper.

p.s. my apologies to all of you who read this post in the first few days (cough, week) it was up. Obviously, tapeworm has hindered my ability to construct grammatically correct sentences. Most of the problems should be fixed, though these days I can’t take full responsibility for anything…

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 15, 2011 8:23 am

    It happens to the best of us. The recipe does LOOK delicious and with the right amount of salt would be delicious. You’re allowed one mistake after so many treasures!

  2. mause costa permalink
    April 19, 2011 1:39 am


  3. April 19, 2011 7:07 am

    How funny, I did the same thing last week! I used my salted pasta water to help out my sauce, but by the time I simmered it down a bit it was super salty! Luckily it wasn’t as disastrous as it could have been, Boyfriend still ate it… A good trick is to put potato slices in it to absorb the salt, or dairy works too

  4. April 28, 2011 12:27 am

    I made this for a dinner party on Monday evening and it was delicious! I used only a very small bit of salt in the pasta water to make sure it wasn’t too salty and all of my guests loved it!

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