If you saw the video tour I did, last year of my new house, then you may remember my favorite food is prosciutto. Just the mention of the word ‘prosciutto’ is akin to food porn foreplay, and when I’m actually in the presence of thinly sliced prosciutto, I’m more than ready to go all the way and indulge myself with wild, orgiastic abandon. On my recent trip to Italy I not only ate copious amounts of prosciutto, I indulged in fresh pasta, figs—straight from the tree—and gelato. Lots and lots of gelato.
Every time I’m in Italy, I’m reminded of how much better and how different the food is from the Italian American food we find in our neighborhood restaurants.
For starters a “sauce” in Italy generally enhances the pasta. It doesn’t smother and overpower it. You’re more likely to find some tagliatelle with a light basil pesto, some lemon and shaved parmesan; pumpkin and red onion filled tortellini drizzled with a small amount of aged pecorino cream; handmade pappardelle with a small portion of duck ragù or handmade tagliolini with black truffles. While tomatoes are found in pasta dishes in Italy, the “spaghetti sauce” from the jar we think of is primarily American. The Italians have a way of elevating pasta to a near sinful status with just a little olive oil, fresh vegetables and herbs.
One of the best pasta dishes I had during my two weeks in Italy was “Tagliolini di pasta fresca fatti a mano con zucchine, cipollotto e ricotta salata di capra.”
Fresh pasta made by hand with thinly sliced, sautéed red onions and some thinly sliced zuchinni, grated ricotta and cracked black pepper added at the very end.
This may sound like a less than noteworthy dish, but since I continue to think about it, I assure you it was anything but… In fact, it was the first thing I made when I got home. I’m sorry to report my version was disappointing! It bore no resemblance to what I’d eaten at the Osteria del Leone in Bagno Vignoni, a Tuscan village known since the Etruscan and Roman times for its hot springs.
A DELIGHTFUL BOTTLE… or TWO… OF WINE WE ENJOYED WITH LUNCH!
Since my first, unsuccessful attempt to duplicate this dish, I’ve done some research on “ricotta salata di capra.” It is not your average ricotta you buy at Whole Foods. The words ‘ricotta’ means re-cooked and ‘salata’ means salted. Ricotta Salata is an Italian cheese made from the whey part of sheep milk, or in this case, ‘di capra,’ which is goat’s milk. It is then pressed, salted and aged for at least 90 days, and because it’s a harder cheese, it’s great for slicing, crumbling or grating.
If I can’t find a Ricotta Salata di Capra cheese, I’m not sure what I could use as a substitute. Pecorino might be an option. Do any of you know? La Contessa and your handsome Italian… Can either of you weigh in on my dilemma? BTW, if you don’t know The Vintage Contessa, you must stop by her website and follow her on Instagram! She and her pig–not her charming husband–will become a delightful addiction.
Just know I will continue to tweak this dish until I get it as close to what I had at Osteria del Leone or my thighs beg for mercy!