The combination of potatoes and pasta in one dish is not unusual in Italy. In Liguria, string beans and cubes of cooked potatoes are served on pasta, traditionally with pesto. In Naples, ditalini with peas and cubed potatoes is a standard. In this pasta recipe, instead of regular potatoes, I use sweet potatoes, which makes the recipe nutritionally more balanced. The sweetness of the potatoes is tamed by the saltiness and complexity of the capers, which makes for a delicious and nutritious plate of pasta.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 ounces thick-sliced bacon or pancetta, cut into julienne strips
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 4 fresh sage leaves
- 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into ½-inch cubes
- 2 leeks, white and light-green parts only, sliced (about 2 cups)
- ¼ cup rinsed small capers (optional)
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pot
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
- 1 pound pipette or elbow pasta
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 cup grated Grana Padano
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for pasta. In a large skillet, over -medium–high heat, heat the olive oil and add the bacon or pancetta, the garlic, and the sage. Cook until fat has rendered, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and leeks, and cook, stirring continuously, until both begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the capers, if using. Season with the salt and crushed red pepper. Ladle in 1 cup of pasta water, and simmer rapidly until the sweet potatoes and leeks are very tender but the sweet potatoes retain their shape, about 7 to 8 minutes, adding more pasta water if necessary to keep it saucy.
Meanwhile, cook the pipette until al dente. When the pipette are done, remove with a spider directly to the sauce. Add the parsley, and toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. Increase the heat and boil a minute if the sauce is too thin, or add a little more pasta water if it is too thick. Remove the skillet from the heat, sprinkle with the grated cheese, toss, and serve.