Ricotta is used a lot in Italian pasta dishes. My guess is that the herdsmen did not always have aged cheese to grate, whereas ricotta could be, and most likely was, made every morning. So, when it came to lunch or dinner, a dollop of fresh ricotta in the cooked pasta always did the trick. Ricotta that we have available in the stores is mostly made from cow’s milk, but ricotta is also made from sheep’s milk or -goat’s milk. If you have an opportunity, try to get the other varieties; they reflect the unique flavors of the different milks and will impart those flavors to your pasta. Ricotta is usually made from the whey after cheese has been made, so it is lower in fat than hard cheese. It keeps in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap, for 3 or 4 days.
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pot
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 12 ounces sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- ½ teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
- 1 pound mafalde or fettuccine
- One 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 1 cup drained fresh ricotta
- ½ cup grated Grana Padano cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for pasta. In a large skillet, over medium heat, heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the sausage and garlic, and cook until the sausage is browned, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you go, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the sliced onion, and season with the salt and the -red–pepper flakes. Cook until onion is wilted, about 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, slosh the tomato can out with 1 cup water, and add that as well. Bring to a simmer, and cook until thick and flavorful, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in the boiling water.
When the pasta is al dente, transfer it to the finished sauce, picking it out of the boiling water with tongs, letting the excess water drip back into the boiling pot. Toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. Remove the skillet from the heat, stir in the ricotta and grated cheese, and serve.