Sausages, onion, white wine, cream, pecorino cheese, olive oil and, of course, pasta. That’s all you need to make this wonderful dish. Penne alla Norcina is a pasta dish that combines the two secrets of the italian cusine: simplicity and quality of the ingredients.
The name Norcina comes from the town of Norcia, famous for cured meat, cheese and the precious truffles. I remember my mom preparing this dish since I was a child. I remember craving it when she wouldn’t cook it for a week and, even today, this is probably one of my top 3 pasta dishes. The ingredients are few and simple, so all that matters for a great dish is their quality.
In particular, you have to carefully select the type of sausages you use. In the UK and in the US I found a hundred variety of sausages: pork and apple, fennel and herbs, rosemary and thyme… even cheese! Forget about them. For this dish you need an italian style pork-sausages (salsicce, in italian): 1) they meat has to be coarse (like the mince meat in a burger) 2) the meat had to be “washed” in white wine to take away the “smell” of pork meat; 3) the seasoning has to be simple (salt, black pepper and just a tiny hint of garlic)
PENNE ALLA NORCINA
Ingredients (4 people): 350g penne pasta – 300ml (a bit more than half pint) of single cream – half white onion – 4 pork sausages – olive oil – half glass of white wine – parmesan or pecorino (sheep) cheese – salt – black pepper.
Time: 16-20 mins
Preparation: Boil at least 3 liters of water in a large saucepan, add a handful of rock salt and let it boil. When it boils, add the pasta and let it cook until al dente (if you are not sure how you should prepare a perfect pasta, check here my 10 tips to cook the perfect pasta).
Use your hands to break the 4 sausages into flakes of mince meat. Chop the onion and gently golden it on a frying pan with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. After 3-4 minutes, when the onion is soft, turn up the flame and add the sausage mince-meat.
After 2 minutes add the wine and let it evaporate, and keep cooking for approximately 5 minutes until the meat is cooked.
Add the cream and stir for 30 seconds, then take the pan off the fire. At this point taste the sauce; if needed, add a pinch of salt.
Once the pasta is al dente, place the frying pan with the sausage and cream back on the fire over a high flame, and add the pasta. Mix the pasta with the sauce for less than a minute until all the pasta is covered in cream. Be careful the cream doesn’t dry too much; if that happens, add a bit of milk, but just enough.
Plate the pasta paying attention each dish has enough sausage. You can season with black pepper and pecorino (sheep) cheese, or Parmesan if preferred.
– If you don’t find the right sausages, you can always prepare the mince meat yourself. Lean pork meat (preferably “washed” in white wine before mincing it, when still in meat chunks, to loose the smell of pork) that you can ask your butcher to coarsely mince, a hint of garlic, salt and pepper.
– For a variation of this pasta and a green touch, you can add chopped asparagus to the sausages. The flavour will be more intense and richer. Also wild mushroom would do… try these different versions and let me know which one you prefer!
– You can use any other type of pasta, though the Umbria tradition uses penne. Despite what most people say, the shape of the pasta deeply influences the perception of the flavours. The most important thing for this dish is that you use rugged pasta, as the cream needs a rugged surface to become one with the pasta.