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
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
tablespoons olive oil
ounces (100 grams) guanciale (pancetta or fresh bacon can replace if unavailable)
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
- Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente.
- 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.
- 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.
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