“Cicio means ‘fat’, and these fat little pasta shapes are halfway between gnocchi and malloreddus. Saffron is used in a lot of Sardinian dishes, but more commonly in the south than the north, where I come from. Here I make an exception and use it to give the pasta dough a lovely golden colour. Campidanese means ‘from the Campidano area’, the plains of southern Sardinia where a lot of vegetables are grown, especially tomatoes; this sauce is typical of that region.”
- For dusting: “00” flour
- 60 ml (¼ cup) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 1 small carrot, finely diced
- 1 stalk celery heart, finely diced
- 250 gm Italian-style pork sausages, skins removed
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- ¼ tsp saffron threads (see note)
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 1 rosemary sprig
- 400 gm canned peeled tomatoes, drained, squashed
- 5 basil leaves, torn
- 80 gm aged Pecorino Sardo, grated
- 2½ saffron threads (see note)
- 180 gm semolina flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1For fresh saffron pasta dough, combine saffron and 30ml warm water in a bowl to soak (3-4 minutes). Sift flour and a pinch of fine sea salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. With the machine running, pour in saffron water and 20ml warm water and mix until absorbed. Start adding more warm water a little at a time until you have a firm dough (about 50ml water, but you may not need it all; towards the end it doesn’t take much extra water for the dough to become too soft). Tip the dough onto a clean, lightly floured work bench and knead with the heels of your hands until smooth and elastic (5 minutes). Roll into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate (1 hour).
- 2Place pasta dough on a clean, dry work bench and, using the palms of your hands, roll it into logs about 1cm wide. If dough starts to stick to the bench, dust bench very lightly with a little flour; if it starts to slip on the bench rather than roll, put a drop of water on your hands. Cut pasta logs into small pieces about the size of a chickpea. Sprinkle with flour and set aside.
- 3Heat a large frying pan over medium heat, add oil and, when hot, add onion, carrot and celery and cook until soft and slightly coloured. Add sausage meat, spread it out evenly in the pan and cook, without stirring, for 5 minutes. Then, using a wooden spoon to break it up, turn the meat over and cook the other side for a few minutes, until browned all over. Stir in tomato paste, saffron, bay leaves and rosemary and cook for a further minute. Add tomatoes, basil and 250ml water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally and crushing the meat slightly, until the sauce is quite thick (about 45 minutes; if it dries out too much, add a little more water). Season to taste.
- 4Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add fine sea salt, then pasta and boil until tender (about 10-12 minutes from the time the water returns to the boil). Drain well, reserving some of the cooking water. Toss the pecorino through the pasta, a little at a time, then add the sauce and toss to coat well (1-2 minutes). If it seems a bit dry, add a couple of tablespoons of reserved cooking water and stir it through well, adding a little more if necessary to give a glossy appearance. Drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately.
Saffron was likely introduced to Sardinia by the Phoenicians around 700 BC and has long been used to colour, scent and flavour pastas, ragùs and desserts. Sardinian saffron, grown in the province of Medio Campidano around San Gavino Monreale, is highly regarded and was granted Protected Designation of Origin status by the European Union in 2009. If you can’t buy Sardinian saffron, make sure you buy saffron threads – not powder, which can too easily be adulterated. Good saffron is expensive, but just a pinch gives great results.
This recipe is from the September 2012 issue of
by Giovanni Pilu and Roberta Muir is published by Lantern, $49.99, hbk. This extract has been reproduced with minor