When we visited Umbria this fall, I expected the region to be a mere stepchild to Tuscany and its cosmopolitan, touristy vibe. Instead, we found a truly distinctive part of Italy, with its own unique character—and a place that includes mountains, national parks, river plains and hilltop towns.
Umbria is the only region in Italy that neither borders another country nor has a coastline. As a result, the land alone and its diversity very heavily influence the cuisine. You’ll find truffles and lentils in the mountains, wheat and farro on the plains, and wine from the hillsides.
The little town of Norcia, in the shadow of the enormous Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini, is a charming place to stay with easy access to the park. The town of Castellucio is a short drive and is famous for lentils and the view of the Piano Grande (a giant alpine valley with beautiful wildflowers in the late spring). In and around Norcia you can find this famous dish, Pasta alla Norcia. I tried it with several types of sausage and decided to make my own. This was the best outcome of all the attempts.
Ingredients and Directions:
For the sausage:
- 2 lbs pork butt – sliced into cubes
- 1/4 lb prosciutto – one large piece
- 1/4 oz dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 Tbsp fennel seed
- 1 Tbsp kosher salt
- 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
- 1 Tbsp coriander
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp anise seed
- 1 Tbsp sugar
For the dish (serves 2 main courses, 4 as a first course):
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 yellow onion – small dice
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 the prepared sausage mixture, use the remaining for another purpose (or double the other amounts to serve 4 main courses)
- 1 cup Italian dry white wine such as a Trebbiano or Verdicchio
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg or to taste (use a microplane grater)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 lb good quality rigatoni mezze or orecchiette
- 1 tsp Summer Black Truffle paste (if available)
- Grated Pecorino cheese
- Stand mixer with a meat grinder attachment
- Sheet pan that will fit in your freezer
- Spice grinder
For the sausage:
- Cover the dried porcini mushrooms with hot water. Allow to steep for 15 minutes. Remove the mushrooms and wring out the water with your hands. Retain the soaking liquid. Slice the porcini mushrooms into small pieces.
- In a spice grinder, grind all the spices into a course powder.
- On a sheet pan that will fit in your freezer, distribute the pork, prosciutto and diced porcini. Sprinkle with the spice mixture. Place the sheet pan in the freezer for 30 minutes so the meat will be cold and grind more easily.
- Set up a stand mixer with the meat grinder attachment and the larger dye. Grind the meet and spices into a bowl.
- Gently mix with your hands and then grind again using the smaller dye.
- Add the porcini soaking liquid to the pork leaving the sediment behind. Mix with your hands until the liquid is incorporated.
- Refrigerate until ready to use.
For the pasta:
- Over medium heat, warm the olive oil in a wide skillet big enough to hold the cooked pasta. Add the diced onion and season with salt and pepper. Saute until the onion is soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.
- Add the sausage and cook until no pink remains. Break up with the back of a wooden spoon. Don’t allow the sausage to deeply brown, just cook it through.
- Add the white wine to deglaze the pan and stir gently until the wine has mostly evaporated.
- Add the heavy cream and stir until the sauce thickens. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta in well-salted water per the package directions for al dente. Drain and add to the sauce.
- Add the summer truffle paste and stir well for 1 minute until it is incorporated and the pasta has absorbed the sauce. Add some of the grated Pecorino and stir into the pasta.
- Serve with additional grated Pecorino cheese.