Sunday, January 11, 2009


Come il cacio sui maccheroni! : Like cheese on the maccheroni! as the Italians say, Just about perfect! And this simple but luscious pasta dish is!

I am known rather fondly chez moi (or maybe I should say da me) as the Risotto Queen. I Risotti by Anna Del Conte firmly in hand, I have mastered the art of making a terrific Italian risotto. From the basic Risotto in Bianco, white with Parmesan, to a luscious summery Lemon Risotto, to Risi e Bisi (“Rice and Kisses”, Risotto with Peas), Mushroom Risotto which I serve in the winter with a platter of Bresaola and Prosciutto, or even an elegant Seafood Risotto. I need to mention here our dear friend Nonna Anna, my friend Lucia’s mother and our neighbor when we moved to the house in the country outside of Milan. She was the true Italian Mamma, the quiet, loving yet firm Matriarch, overseeing her own brood of children and grandchildren, as well as those of her numerous brothers and sisters. How many times have I watched her putting together a delicious, healthy meal for 8, 10 or more people with an insouciance that never betrayed her talent and experience in the kitchen.

From Nonna Anna I learned not how to make a risotto, but rather what a great risotto should look and taste like. The same with any number of pasta dishes, from the simple Penne tossed with chopped, fresh tomatoes and basil fresh from her garden, to a more involved Pizzoccheri. But where risotto is concerned, I experienced her fabulous Risotto alla Milanese – Risotto with Saffron – and I understood that a true risotto is rich and creamy, the grains of rice melting in your mouth, with just enough Parmesan (or none at all) to enhance the dish while never overpowering it.

I don’t remember where I first tasted Pasta cooked in the style of Risotto alla Milanese, but we have grown to love it. I take any tiny-sized pasta, most usually mini-Penne Rigate – only one of many “mini” pastas in Barilla’s Piccolini selection. They are all so cute!

Mini penne rigate (pennette)

Anyway, I then proceed as I would the same recipe made with rice.

I use either ground turmeric/curcuma from North Africa or Spanish flavoring in individual sachets

This is a scrumptious, quick, inexpensive meal, just served with a mixed salad tossed with a tangy balsamic vinegar and a good quality olive oil, a crusty bread or, as I do, a warm-out-of-the-oven focaccia and maybe a selection of Italian cheeses or prosciutti.

RISOTTO-STYLE PASTA (Pasta all Milanese)

6 cups (1400 ml) chicken, meat or vegetable broth (homemade, canned or, as I do, made from bouillon cubes, whatever you have on hand)
2 shallots or 1 small onion, finely chopped
5 Tbs (75 g) unsalted butter
1 lb (500 g) mini pasta of your choice (I usually use mini penne rigate)
2/3 cup (150 ml) good white wine (I use a local Muscadet or Gros Plant)
½ tsp powdered saffron or curcuma
Salt & freshly ground pepper
Grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese – ¼ to ½ cup (say 60 to 75 g)

Heat 4 Tbs (60 g) of the butter and the chopped shallots or onion in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté the shallots until soft and translucent.

Add the pasta and stir until all the pasta is coated evenly with the butter.

Pour the glass of white wine over the pasta

and, stirring, allow to boil gently until the wine has been completely absorbed by the pasta. Keep an eye on this as you need to start adding the broth immediately as the last of the wine is gone so it doesn’t burn.

Now pour 2 or 3 ladlefuls of the prepared chicken or meat broth over the pasta. Again, allow to cook at a low boil, stirring to keep the pasta from burning or sticking to the bottom of the pot, until the broth is almost completely absorbed by the pasta. Add a few more ladles of broth, and continue the cooking process, stirring until almost completely absorbed, adding a few more ladles of the broth, etc.

After 10 minutes of cooking (which should be about halfway or a bit less through the cooking process), add the saffron or curcuma, salt – depending on how salty your broth is – and a generous grinding of pepper.

Continue cooking until the pasta is very tender. Remember, this is not a classic pasta dish which is to be served al dente, but a "risotto", so the pasta should almost melt in your mouth. The dish should also be creamy, not dry. I end up adding all 6 cups of the broth at which point the pasta is well cooked and very soft and the consistency of the “risotto” is creamy and perfect.

Remove from the heat and add the rest of the butter, about 1 Tbs (15 g) together with about ¼ cup (50 g) of the grated cheese. Stir vigorously, taste and add more cheese if you so desire. Cover the pot and leave for 1 minute.

Serve the Pasta with more grated Parmesan cheese on the side.

Beautiful, warm from the oven, focaccia to be served with the Pasta

This can be served as a first course or as a side dish to your main course, Osso Bucco, for example, or as a meal in itself with a salad tossed with a simple olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing, and bread warm from the oven. Add a selection of good Italian cheeses or choice prosciutto. And a bottle of good Italian wine, red or white, of course. Assolutamente perfetto! Come il cacio sui maccheroni!


noble pig said...

Okay, I have never seen the mini-penne rigatta they are adorable. I love this dish, so beautifully executed and a wonderful way to feed the family.

Interestingly I just bought a hunk of Grana Padano and it is waiting for a usage like this one. I so want those mini-penne though!

asiangrrl said...

You have rendered me speechless, Jamie, and you know that's pretty dang impossible to do--and nary a pic of chocolate in sight.

If i could eat wheat and dairy...I would make someone make this for me!

P.S. My verification word is 'salmena'. A little too close to salmonella for my taste.

Not That Cool said...

That is quite possibly the sexiest pasta dish I have ever seen. I will try this recipe....oh yes I will.

We have Barilla piccolini here in Nashville. Love it!

Too bad that my Nonni have slipped their mortal coils, I bet they would love to try this.

YankeeSoaper said...

This dish looks so good Jamie. I've never heard of this before.. but one that I'm sure to try now!

Maryann said...

Looks good :)

we are never full said...

the pictures are mouth-watering. but... i have to test this out. i just can't imagine eating pasta any other way than aldente? am i weird for thinking this way? melt-in-your-mouth i want, but mushy pasta would be gross. but why would you put a recipe up here that's mushy?

ok, i need to just try this. i'm totally intrigued by the way you used pasta as you would arborio. very cool!

Jamie said...

I will confirm for the faint of heart and the Doubting Thomas's, though not al dente this pasta is far from mushy. It truly is meltingly tender. Just keep a careful eye over the cooking. This dish is so outrageously superb and so simple that I wonder how I forget to make it more often.

Shay said...

Jamie, I can't wait to try this! Looks delish!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

I love this way of cooking pasta! A wonderful dish!




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