As the name of this traditional dish from Calabria suggests, it is made from the few ingredients available to a shepherd in remote pastures. Yet, in my experience, some of the best pasta sauces in Italy come from such a limited larder of ingredients. A fine example is this dressing for rigatoni, created with a bit of sausage, dried grating cheese, fresh ricotta, peperoncino, and fresh basil. And if you toss in other fresh herbs in season, your rigatoni alla pastora will have a slightly different taste each time.
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage (without fennel seeds), removed from casings
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
- 1 pound rigatoni
- 2 cups fresh whole-milk ricotta, drained overnight (about 1 pound)
- ¼ cup grated Grana Padano, plus more for the table
- ½ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, shredded
You will need a large pot for cooking the pasta; a heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, 12-inch diameter or larger. Fill the pasta pot with salted water, and heat to a rolling boil. For the sauce, crumble the sausage meat in a bowl, breaking it into small clumps with your fingers. Pour the olive oil into the skillet, and set it over medium-high heat. Sprinkle in the peperoncino, let it toast for a few seconds, then scatter the crumbled sausage in the pan. Cook the sausage, stirring and breaking up any clumps, for 10 minutes or so, as the meat juices are released and cook away, until it is all well browned and crispy. Meanwhile, when the sausage is sizzling, drop the rigatoni into the boiling pasta water; stir, and cook at the boil. When the sausage is browned and crisp, ladle about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water into the skillet, and deglaze the pan bottom, scraping up the browned bits. Season the sausage meat with the salt, and stir with the bit of moisture in the pan. When the pasta is al dente, lift it from the pot, drain briefly, and drop it into the skillet. Toss the rigatoni and sausage together, then turn off the heat, and stir in the ricotta and grated cheese. Scatter the basil on top, and toss well to dress the pasta evenly. Heap the rigatoni in warm bowls, and serve immediately.