Pasta alla Norcina

a1111-img_1576IMG_1570.JPGPasta alla Norcina


12 ounces small shaped pasta (e.g., medium shells, penne, orecchiette)
16 ounces ground pork
Kosher salt
Black pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon olive oil
16 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced or finely chopped
1/2 cup half and half
1 cup water
1 ounce fresh grated parmesan
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt and add pasta. Cook until al dente (about 10 minutes). Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.

Place the pork in a medium bowl. Add 1 tablespoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, half the garlic, 1 teaspoon dried rosemary and nutmeg to pork and mix by hand until well combined.

Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in large deep skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add pork and saute until cooked through, about 5 minutes, breaking the sausage into chunks as it browns. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to bowl, add half and half, and set aside.

Add mushrooms to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in remaining garlic, 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, and another 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in water, scraping up any browned bits, and cook until completely evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in sausage/half-and-half mixture and 1/2 cup reserved cooking water and simmer for an additional 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in parmesan until smooth. Add cooked pasta to the sauce, along with the parsley and lemon juice, and toss well to coat.

Before serving, adjust consistency with remaining reserved cooking water as needed and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with additional cheese, black pepper, or red pepper flakes, as desired.


Steve and I first saw this recipe on an episode of America’s Test Kitchen and immediately felt we had to try it. The only problem was… well, sometimes ATK can be a bit, um, fussy. It’s one of the reasons I love them, really, but sometimes they go a little overboard and end up making a big production out of something that really should be very straightforward. I personally feel this is one of those times.

This is a dish Italian grandmothers cooked and they didn’t add baking soda to the pork or use a food processor for the mushrooms or cook the sausage in a large patty, only to slice it on a cutting board later. Too much fuss. So. I changed their method to suit my typical m.o.: simple and quick. I also changed the ingredient ratios to suit my other m.o.: much lower-calorie but still filling – and I think my version is phenomenal, if I do say so myself.

Don’t let the minimal ingredient list fool you, folks. This is one of the most intensely-flavored dishes I have ever made. We were blown away at first bite. Steve could not stop mm’ing and oh’ing and yelling about it at the table – to the point that it was almost comical. Give it a try. You won’t be sorry!


3 thoughts on “Pasta alla Norcina

  1. I always say that about my sausage and pea pasta – how incredible and rich just a few simple ingredients can be. I've made a rendition of this a long time ago and it was amazing. I never got pictures…and never made it again. Tragic! I need to.


  2. In my personal quest to go through all of your pasta recipes I made this one last week. The only real change I made to the recipe was adding some raw, diced bacon to the ground pork while mixing it with the seasonings (and then cut back on the added salt to compensate). Turned out wonderfully! I don't think I put quite enough nutmeg in, a bit more would have given it a bit more complexity but it was still delicious!

    Oh, and I didn't have lemon juice on hand so I squeezed half a lime into it instead. Not sure how much difference that made in the end.


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