Saturday, February 11, 2012

Nothing says love like Rigatoni alla Buttera.

This favorite Italian dish with sausage and peas is often translated as "Peasant-Style Pasta" although I have always thought the word Buttera was a family name and does not actually translate to peasant.  It's close to  "Buttero" an Italian cowboy and I suppose it's possible that the dish gets its name from these cow herders.  But wherever the name comes from, it's just darn good Italian-style comfort food and easy to make for your loved one! 

Rigatoni alla Buttera is pasta served with sausage, tomatoes, peas, parmesan, and cream. 

I first enjoyed this dish at our favorite Chicago Italian restaurant, Coco Pazzo.  It serves Tuscan inspired cuisine using only the freshest of ingredients.  If you were not sitting in the midst of downtown Chicago you would think that the kitchen had a garden and seaside just outside its doors.   Fresh vegetables, roasted whole fish, house made squid ink pasta... but I digress.  

When we are in New York City, Lavagna in East Village is a Zagat-rated neighborhood Italian restaurant we try not to miss. While Kevin often orders their very wonderful fresh fish, the reason to go to Lavagna is for the rigatoni.   It is extremely popular with locals and visitors alike and once you have it there you will order it time and again.

Thankfully, it's also easy to make at home either completely from scratch as I describe below, or even on a weeknight with a jar of Mario Batali's vodka sauce

1 1/2 cups peas (fresh or thawed frozen peas)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium chopped yellow onion
1/2 pound or a bit more Italian sausage (mild or a mix of mild/hot)
2 to 3 ounces sliced pancetta, finely minced (optional)
1 cup red wine
4 cups tomato sauce
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 pound dried rigatoni
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Notes:  If using fresh peas, drop them into a small saucepan of boiling salted water and cook until tender but still a bit firm. Drain and set aside.   I get fresh Italian sausage at my local Italian store and it is very lean, so I brown it in a little oil.  If your sausage if fatty, omit the oil in the step below. 

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed skillet or sauce pan over high heat.  Add the sausage and optional pancetta, and cook, stirring and breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon, until the sausage has a golden brown color, 3 to 5 minutes.  Remove the sausage from the pan and reduce heat to medium.

Add the chopped onion and stir until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the red wine and stir any brown bits from the bottom of the pan and until the wine is reduced at least by half.  Add the tomato sauce and season with salt, pepper and Italian seasonings.   Return the sausage to the pan and heat until just bubbling and then reduce heat and simmer for 30-60 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the coarse salt and pasta and cook until the pasta is tender but still firm to the bite.

Stir the cream into the tomato sauce and heat through.   Taste the sauce and correct seasonings as necessary.  Stir in half the peas, simmer for another minute or two, and turn off the heat.   (The sauce can be prepared several hours ahead. Reheat gently before using.)

Drain the pasta and place in the pan or skillet with the sauce. Add a small handful of the Parmigiano and mix over medium heat until the pasta and sauce are well combined, about 7 minutes. Taste, adjust the seasoning.  Sprinkle the remaining peas on the top of each serving along with the remaining Parmigiano.

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