Pasta alla Pastora (Shepherd’s Pasta)
My husband and I discovered this Pasta alla Pastora recipe while in the beautiful Dolomite mountains (eastern area of the Italian alps) where cattle and sheep graze on the mountain sides and mushrooms are abundant on the forest floors. This pasta condiment is primarily meat (as opposed to a tomato sauce) although there is a bit of tomato in it which, with the heavy cream and ricotta cheese, makes for an interesting color and texture. Use short pasta with this recipe and enjoy the combination of natural ingredients that will remind you of this spectacular region of Italy.
Now, this recipe, as so many others, utilizes pork guanciale which comes from the pig’s cheek and neck and although they are actually quite different, if you can’t find guanciale you’ll have to use pancetta (bacon). As you probably know pancetta is cut from the pig’s belly: the Italian word for stomach or paunch is, in fact, pancia – thus, pancetta. A slab of guanciale is harder and tougher than that of pancetta and yet is more flavorful. But the real difference is in the fat: whereas the fat in pancetta is more solid and remains white when cooked, the fat in guanciale is more “fine”, less compact, has more flavor and when cooked, becomes transparent.
But in the absence of guanciale, you can certainly use bacon with this recipe.
Ingredients for Pasta alla Pastora:
400 gr (1 lb) short pasta
1/4 lb finely guanciale o sliced bacon, cut into little strips
1 onion, grated or very finely chopped
1/3 lb ground veal
2 sausages, without skins
7 oz dried porcini mushrooms
3/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 can (8 oz approximately) of smooth tomato sauce (without salt or other additives)
3-4 oz fresh ricotta (if you have a choice, go with sheep ricotta)
grated parmesan cheese, salt, pepper
Serves 4-5 people
Pasta alla Pastora Preparation:
Soak the dried mushrooms in tepid water for at least 2 hours. Drain, rinse, wring out any excess water with your hands and then cut into pieces.
In a large frying pan with just a small amount of olive oil, sauté the bacon just until tender. Add the onion and cook just until transparent. Add the sausage pieces and when these are just cooked, the ground veal. When the meats appear cooked, add the mushrooms and the wine and bring to a boil. At this point add the tomato sauce, salt and pepper to taste and let cook semi-covered for 20 min.
Right before cooking the pasta, add the ricotta and the heavy cream to the meat mixture and heat well.
Cook the pasta in boiling salt water just to “al dente,” drain and add to the meat mixture in the pan. Quickly “jump” all ingredients together over medium heat for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Pour into serving bowl and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.