Pasta with Ricotta and Saffron

April 19, 2021
3 Ratings
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

This is a pasta dressing that barely even requires cooking – just a little sizzle of the guanciale and the tea-like infusion of saffron threads, some fresh ricotta cheese and you're good to go, before you know it, dinner is being tossed together and served.

Saffron is the special ingredient here, adding a fragrant and spiced note to this dish, not to mention the colour. It's a little extravagant for something so simple but perhaps that's what makes this dish so appealing, a little like a grating of fresh truffles over a fried egg. Humble paired with exquisite – it means little effort, big results.

Abruzzo's Aquila is famous for its saffron, which has been grown in the area since it was brought over from Spain in the Middle Ages. It now has DOP (protected designation of origin) status and it naturally features in many of the area's dishes, particularly in pasta or with potatoes (such as in their wonderful potato and saffron soup).

This light and refreshing pasta dish is traditionally made with a short, ribbed tube pasta known as cannarozzetti (penne, ditalini or mezze maniche are similar and could make good substitutes). The hot pasta is tossed quickly with some fresh ricotta, saffron (the threads are steeped in a little hot water to make a golden, fragrant infusion) and guanciale (pancetta or fresh bacon could replace if you can't get this delicious cured pork cheek), cut into small cubes and cooked until golden and the fat is rendered. Vegetarians could leave this out but those who love it will see it adds a wonderfully salty touch to an otherwise very delicate dish.

This sunny coloured dish should definitely be served with plenty of grated Pecorino cheese and perhaps a twist of black pepper. —Emiko

What You'll Need
  • 11 ounces (320 grams) short, ribbed tube pasta such as penne, ditalini or mezze maniche
  • A pinch of saffron threads infused in a few tablespoons of hot water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) guanciale (pancetta or fresh bacon can replace if unavailable)
  • 11 ounces (320 grams) firm, fresh ricotta (sheeps milk ricotta is preferable)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A handful of Pecorino cheese (or Parmesan or Grana if unavailable), to serve
  1. Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the saffron by leaving the threads to infuse in a cup with a few tablespoons of hot water. Heat the olive oil in a wide skillet and, over medium heat, cook the guanciale, diced, until golden brown and the fat has turned translucent. Drain on kitchen paper.
  3. When the pasta is cooked and drained (save some of the cooking water just in case you need to loosen the dressing), add it to the skillet where the guanciale was cooking. Toss quickly with the saffron infusion, guanciale and fresh ricotta, until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with Pecorino cheese.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Christine Johnston Warren
    Christine Johnston Warren
  • Ruby Claire
    Ruby Claire
  • kschurms
  • Bryan Mays
    Bryan Mays
  • Emiko

14 Reviews

Christine J. September 27, 2020
Looks delish! Do you use the rendered fat from the guanciale to make the sauce or do you pour it out after you remove the cooked guanciale to drain? Thx!
Arianne January 26, 2018
Assuming I am serving this as a first course (followed by a chicken and rabbit paella), how many people should i expect it to feed?
Emiko January 27, 2018
These portions are based on typical Italian portions (ie 80 grams of pasta per person), but if you've got a big meal ahead, you could easily calculate 50-60 grams of pasta per person and stretch it out.
Ruby C. December 31, 2014
This was sooo delicious! I added some fresh lemon zest and a little bit of juice - I splurged on the ricotta and topped with fresh oregano. Exactly what I was craving tonight. The saffron makes this dish sing. Well done!
Reengh September 18, 2014
11 ounces is ALOT of cheese. Is this right?
Emiko September 18, 2014
Of course it's right! ;) trust me, it won't seem like much when you are making this. Essentially the ricotta creates the sauce that binds this whole dish together. It should be same weight a pasta.
kschurms June 12, 2014
For the saffron infusion -- would hot tap water be enough, or should the water be boiled?
Emiko September 18, 2014
Boiled water will give you a better infusion (have you ever tried making a cup of tea with warm water? It comes out weak and less flavourful!) so in other words you get more bang for your buck!
lynncline June 4, 2014
This recipe sounded so enticing. But I noticed that it didn't include whatever green herb/spice or other ingredient that was shown in the photo, and it also didn't indicate whether you're supposed to keep the skillet on the heat when you stir in the pasta, ricotta and other ingredients. An email inquiry I sent to food52 yielded no response. Perhaps the chef could enlighten me? Thanks!
Emiko June 4, 2014
The green herb, as noted in the comment below, is marjorm and isn't included in the recipe as it's not traditional (was just a garnish to add colour to the photo to be honest!) but it IS a nice addition, so feel free to add it! You are off the heat when you toss the ricotta and other ingredients together. Sorry I didn't see the inquiry (I don't get notifications for those!). Hope that helps!
lynncline June 4, 2014
Thanks, Emiko. I didn't realize someone had already asked this question as I didn't look at the comments below. I went ahead and made it tonight without the marjoram and intuited not to put ricotta into a hot pan. It was good. Thanks.
Bryan M. June 3, 2014
The green garnish in the picture looks a little like fresh oregano......but very green......suggestion? Parsley? Basil? I reeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaally want to try this and that pop of color looks perfect!
Emiko June 4, 2014
Close! It's actually fresh marjoram, which has a delicate, herby-floral note to it. Fresh oregano or thyme would work well too I think.
Bryan M. June 4, 2014