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Splendid Table: A recipe for Sicilian Shepherds' Tomato Pasta

May 20, 2010|By LYNNE ROSSETTO KASPER / Scripps Howard News Service

Dear Lynne: I have a vinegar dilemma. In 1982 I bought two 1-gallon plastic jugs of French Beaufor vinegar, champagne and red wine. When I moved in 1987, they accidentally went into a box marked "storage" and have just surfaced now. Will the vinegar still be good? -- Dan in California

Dear Dan: First, I've got to say I envy you that Beaufor vinegar. Their cider vinegar is a personal favorite, so I imagine the champagne and red-wine ones must be as fine.

Normally, old vinegar, if kept sealed in glass in a cool, dark place, will be fine, perhaps even superb. The plastic is the worrying part of this situation. Discard the vinegar and, if possible, recycle the containers. I wouldn't trust plastic holding acids for that length of time. It is not worth taking a chance.

Dear Lynne: What can I use on pasta instead of Parmigiano-Reggiano? Sadly, this cheese cannot fit into my budget anymore. My big problem is, I am a purist. I don't want fake Parmigiano (don't tell me to try domestic and the stuff from Argentina -- they're revolting), so where can I go to get a "right" and inexpensive cheese for my pastas?--Tony from Wisconsin

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Dear Tony: Never would I drive you to those cheeses you so dislike. Nothing equals Parmigiano-Reggiano when it's good; there's a reason why it is called one of the handful of great cheeses on the planet.

So instead of search for what doesn't exist -- a duplicate -- try a slight mind shift and think about what kind of cheese you want with a particular pasta dish.

For instance, vegetable- or meat-based pastas can take a Parmigiano-wannabe that echoes some of its savoriness, nutlike qualities and full flavor. A couple of relatively inexpensive domestic cheeses work here -- Fontinella by Stella, and an Asiago. Since you are in Wisconsin, both might be easy to find. Vela Dry Jack from California is worth a try, too, but it can be expensive.

If you are having a spicy tomato sauce, those two will work with it, but you could go in a completely different direction and use fresh ricotta as a foil for the sauce. It's a good idea for sauces with a lot of punch and spice. Polly-O is a good national brand.

This is one of our all-time favorite recipes; I first tasted it with two Sicilian shepherds. They'd just finished making their Sunday-morning ricotta, had reheated the pasta from the night before and shared it with me, as they ladled the warm, new ricotta over the noodles.

SICILIAN SHEPHERDS' TOMATO PASTA
WITH FRESH RICOTTA



o Serves 6 to 8 as a first course and 4 to 6 as a main dish.

Use organic ingredients if you can.

Sauce:

Top third of 3 large celery stalks, with leaves
1 medium carrot
10 large fresh sage leaves
1 tightly packed teaspoon Italian parsley
2 tablespoons robust extra-virgin olive oil
1/8-inch-thick slice salami (soppressatta, Genoa or other), coarsely chopped
2 medium onions, cut into 1/2 inch dice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large cloves garlic, minced
Generous pinch to 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
3/4 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
28-ounce can whole tomatoes, plus a 14-ounce can, both thoroughly drained

Pasta and Cheese:

1 pound penne rigate or bucatini pasta
6 quarts salted, boiling water
1 pound creamy whole-milk ricotta cheese (sheep's milk, if possible)

Mince together the celery and carrot, then add the herbs, coarsely chopping the mixture. Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium high. Add the salami and cook to release a little of its fat, stir in the minced blend, the onion, a generous amount of black pepper and a little salt. Turn heat to medium and saute to golden brown.

With heat still at medium, stir in garlic and hot pepper (to taste), cooking a few moments. Add wine and slowly simmer down to practically nothing, scraping up brown bits at the bottom of the pan. Stir in the tomato paste and cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes and their liquid, crushing them as they go into the pan. Cook, uncovered, at a lively bubble (turning heat up if necessary), stirring and scraping down sides of the pan with a spatula. Cook 10 minutes or until thick. Taste for seasoning, cover and remove from heat.

Time pasta to be ready when the sauce is done. Cook pasta in fiercely boiling water, stirring often until slightly underdone. Drain in a colander. Toss the pasta and sauce together over medium heat, 2 to 3 minutes, tasting for hot pepper and salt. Spread about a third of the pasta in a heated serving bowl, daub with a third of the ricotta. Layer in more pasta, then ricotta, the pasta, and finishing with a few spoonfuls of ricotta. Serve hot.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper hosts "The Splendid Table," American Public Media's weekly national show for people who love to eat, and is the co-author of "The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper: Recipes, Stories, and Opinions."

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