Massimiliano Conti, chef of San Francisco's La Ciccia, keeps the beloved malloreddus (a ridged cavatelli-shaped durum wheat pasta) on the menu year-round, but says that in his native Sardinia, where the recipe originated, it's a staple of the holiday table. "Traditionally, this pasta was made in the late fall and winter, after the annual pig slaughter," says the chef. Conti recalls watching his grandmother, aunt and mother make it together for New Year's Eve dinner. By serving the comforting, pork-rich dish at his own restaurant, he's carrying on the family tradition.
Malloreddus alla Campidanese
Recipe adapted from Massimiliano Conti, La Ciccia, San Francisco
Yield: 4 servings
Cook Time: 45 minutes
2 cups strained, whole canned tomatoes (preferably Italian tomatoes)
1 pound malloreddus (or penne or fusilli)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, crushed
¾ pound mild Italian sausage, casing removed and sausage roughly chopped
8 basil leaves, roughly chopped
Pinch dried red pepper flakes
1 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese, divided
1. In a medium bowl, roughly crush the Italian tomatoes using your fingers.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoon of salt and cook, following the package instructions, until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking water.
3. While the pasta water comes to a boil, start the sauce: In a large skillet set over medium heat, add the olive oil, onion and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until the onion and garlic are tender and translucent, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in the sausage, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring often, until the liquid in the pan evaporates and the sausage browns, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, basil, red pepper flakes, saffron, remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and the reserved pasta cooking water and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the sauce is thick, about 35 minutes. Taste and season with more salt if needed.
4. Add the pasta to the sauce along with ½ cup of the Pecorino. Toss to combine and divide among 4 bowls. Sprinkle with the remaining Pecorino before serving.