The city of Norcia in the Umbrian region of Italy is famous for its meat products (sausages) and truffles! That’s why one of the most famous dishes of the region is the Pasta alla Norcina recipe.
This truffle pasta with sausage and onions is traditionally served with a creamy ricotta cheese sauce. In modern times, to save money and time, some have begun to replace the ricotta with heavy cream. However, cream can not match the traditional ricotta in terms of nutrition or taste!
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Truffle Pasta: Ingredients
The traditional Pasta alla Norcina recipe calls for black truffle ‘pregiato’ (often called ‘fine black truffle’ abroad)—and a lot of it! This will be too expensive for many budgets. We are talking about the Tuber Melanosporum, for those of you who want to be precise. These prized truffles are harvested in Autumn and Winter.
- whole black truffle — traditional
- truffle infused oil
- truffle powder
- truffle pâté —these products usually come mixed with other types of mushrooms like porcini and champignon
Black truffles come in different species. They differ in the color and texture of their outer skin as well as the color and pattern inside. The ‘fine black truffle’ is often confused with the ‘black summer truffle’ for this reason because they both have dark skins.
Summer truffles (sometimes called Burgundy) are less expensive and not quite as rich in flavor—but that’s on the scale of truffles! They are still very tasty. White truffle is prized since it’s evaded domestication and has a truly divine taste.
TIP: You can freeze whole truffles. In fact, you will want to freeze them if you are not using the whole truffle right away.
The Sausage (and Onions)
The Pasta alla Norcia recipe calls for onions and sausage! We use one link (crumbled) per person. However, to lighten up the dish, feel free to use less sausage.
We chose a sausage from Norcia (made with pork and wild boar meat). However, it is enough to look for a simple sausage made with ingredients like wine, garlic, salt and black pepper.
Avoid ‘Italian Sausage’ Abroad
Do not use a so-called ‘Italian sausage’ for this recipe, heavy in fennel and/or red pepper. The so-called ‘Italian sausage’ with fennel that has been popularized abroad (especially in the United States) is NOT popular in Italy. It is never the type of sausage expected when you see ‘sausage’ listed in a traditional Italian food recipe!
The Ricotta Cheese
Like a few other authentic Italian pasta recipes, the sauce for this pasta is made with ricotta cheese. Choose whole milk sheep ricotta for a super creamy and tasty sauce.
The creamy sauce for this Truffle Pasta is nothing more than ricotta cheese mixed with a few ladles of hot pasta water!
In fact, many authentic Italian pasta recipes use this method for making pasta sauce. For instance, both the Italian Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe and the authentic Carbonara recipe use hot starchy pasta water (NOT CREAM) to create a creamy emulsion with the cheese in those dishes.
Due to the nature of ricotta, the cheese may separate in the sauce a bit as it cools—that is expected! In other words, it is not quite as creamy as it would be if you used heavy cream. However, ricotta has many advantages over cream in a sauce.
Ricotta is richer in calcium than heavy cream. It is lower in saturated fat and cholesterol and has more protein. Also, ricotta is simply more flavorful than heavy cream!
This sauce is a great example of how pasta made with traditional Italian recipes are naturally in line with the Mediterranean Diet, while these same dishes are made less healthy abroad with the addition of ingredients like heavy cream.
How to Make Truffle Pasta of Norcia
Making the Truffle Pasta of Norcia is actually very easy! Here are the basic steps. See our recipe card (or video recipe) for the step-by-step details.
Sauté the Onions
Sauté minced onions in a bit of olive oil until they are translucent. This is called making the soffritto in Italian cooking. A half of a large onion is enough for this dish.
Cook the Sausage
Add the crumbled sausage to the onion and cook it over medium heat until done. This will take 5-10 minutes.
Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine to pull all of the flavor into the sauce! The wine also lends our pasta a delicious flavor.
Make the Ricotta Sauce
Add a few ladles of hot starchy pasta water to the ricotta cheese. Use a whisk or immersion blender to blend it into a creamy sauce.
Add the Cooked Penne Pasta
Traditionally, penne pasta is the pasta of choice for Pasta alla Norcina! Cook the pasta in salted water according to the package instructions for al dente, strain it, then add it to the sausage and onions.
Add the Truffle
Grate fresh truffle (or add whatever truffle you are using) to the pasta. We used about 3/4 of our whole truffle.
Mix in the Creamy Sauce
Mix the creamy ricotta sauce into the pasta off of the heat. Top with more truffle (you can never have enough). And finally…
Top with Pecorino Cheese!
Pasta alla Norcina is traditionally topped with freshly grated pecorino cheese, as we are doing here:
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Pasta alla Norcina Recipe (Truffle Pasta with Sausage and Ricotta)
- 1 grater or zester if using fresh truffle
- 1 large skillet or pan
- 1 Large Pot for cooking the pasta
- 4 whole sausage crumbled; NOT 'Italian' sausage but a simple sausage with wine, garlic, black pepper, etc.
- ½ large onion minced
- black truffle to taste
- ½ cup white wine Pinot Grigio is a good choice
- 7 oz whole milk ricotta preferably sheep's milk ricotta
- 1¾ oz pecorino cheese grated, to taste on top
- 11 oz penne pasta or another tube pasta
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- 1 pinch fine salt or to taste
- 2 handfuls coarse salt to salt the pasta water
Prepare the Ingredients
- Mince the onion. Remove the casings from the sausage and crumble it.½ large onion, 4 whole sausage
Sauté the Onions
- Add olive oil to the bottom of a large saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Sauté the minced onions in the olive oil until they are translucent and soft.5 tbsp olive oil
Cook the Sausage
- Add the sausage crumbles to the sautéed onion. Cook the sausage over medium heat for 5-10 minutes until no longer pink. Salt to taste.1 pinch fine salt
- Add the white wine to the sausage to de-glaze the pan. In the meantime…½ cup white wine
Cook the Pasta
- While the onions and sausage (next step) are cooking, bring a large stock pot of water to a rolling boil.
- Add the penne pasta to the boiling water along with 2 handfuls of coarse salt.2 handfuls coarse salt, 11 oz penne pasta
- Cook the penne pasta according to the package instructions for 'al dente.'
Make the Ricotta Sauce
- Add a few ladles of hot pasta water a little at a time to the ricotta cheese.7 oz whole milk ricotta
- Whisk the cheese with the hot pasta water until it is cream and smooth. You can also use a blender, food processor, or immersion blender to do this job.
Combine Penne with the Sausage and Onions
- Add the cooked, drained penne pasta to the sausage and onions in the pan. Then, add the truffle (to taste). If you are using whole truffle, you'll want to grate it fresh into the pan. Give everything a good mix!black truffle
Add the Ricotta Sauce
- Mix the creamy ricotta sauce in with the pasta off of the heat.
Top with Pecorino Cheese
- Top with freshly grated pecorino cheese and serve!1¾ oz pecorino cheese