Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ditalini al la Nona

My sister, Courtney, and I (and Mick, too), have a favorite little Italian restaurant not too far from where I used to live.  It's not the fanciest place -- which is kind-of the point -- and they have a wonderful little lunch buffet.   We love going there, in part because they have this delicious little cream-sauce ditalini dish.  Whenever I crave a cream-sauce pasta dish, I end up at this restaurant for lunch.  (Even if I go alone, which happens regularly enough.  Me and my nook, that's all I need.)

Well, earlier this week Mick and I happened to go for lunch (the kids were at school) and we were the only ones there.  I asked the owner the name of that fabulous little ditalini dish, and he told me (in broken English with a heavy Italian accent), "Ditalini al la Nona."

I decided to try my hand at it tonight, and if I say so myself, we knocked it out of the park.  Delicious!

Here are your ingredients: 
1/2 pound of ditalini
1/2 pound of prosciutto, sliced thin
1 can of peas (I used sweet, but any will work)
about 10 large mushrooms (I used white)
3-4 cups heavy cream (1 quart will cover it), plus extra
3-4 cloves fresh garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil
kosher salt and fresh pepper

First, go ahead and put on a stock pot of water.  Add a healthy Tablespoon of kosher salt to the water.  We need to get this to a boil while we make the sauce.

Drizzle a pan with about 2 Tbsp of olive oil.  I used regular olive oil, but light would work.   And don't worry if the oil doesn't cover the bottom of the pan -- as it heats up it will thin a little and spread out.
You'll see that I'm using a braiser as my pot, but a covered saute pan or even a stock pot or dutch oven would be fine.  The only restriction is that you need to be able to cover it.  I like wider, flatter pans for sauteing, so that's why I used this one.

Let the oil warm up (I put my burner on medium) and chop your garlic. 

Don't mind my Band-Aid! It looks awful because it was wet, but at least you know my hands were clean! 

This is as fine as I chopped the garlic.  Nothing fancy.
Once you dice/chop/whatever the garlic, add it to the pan. Stir it up until you get the garlic nice and golden.  I tend to leave it for a few minutes at a time and use this time to clean and slice my mushrooms (don't forget to slice off the bottoms of the stems!) If you're not good at multitasking, worry first about the garlic, because you don't want it to burn.  Then turn the burner off, slice your mushrooms, and turn the burner back on.

I used about 9-10 big mushrooms. If you saw in the ingredients photo that I had a big tub, it's because I bought them at Costco and plan to use the rest in a different recipe tomorrow.

The mushrooms (and CAM), before we cleaned the 'shrooms.
The sliced mushrooms.  Some of them were a little big to me, so after I took this photo I cut down the middle of the pile a few times.
Add the mushrooms to the oil and garlic, and gently stir them as they begin to heat up.  Don't worry if there's not enough oil to coat everything, because the mushrooms will cook in their own juices.  If you're really nervous, drizzle the mushrooms gently, but don't over-do it.

Once the 'shrooms start to soften, cover the pan and head back to your prep space.

Now, slice your prosciutto.  I had some helpers and wasn't paying super great attention, so I used a wooden cutting board ... at least prosciutto isn't uncooked!  Anyway, I started out using a regular knife but quickly switched to kitchen shears. Cut the prosciutto into pieces about 1 inch x 1inch.  If you cut more than one slice at a time, the pieces will stick together -- break them apart if they're really bad, but otherwise, they'll come apart in the pan.

Add the prosciutto to the pan, and stir in with the mushrooms and garlic.  You have to keep gently stirring the to keep them from burning, but when you start to see the ends of the prosciutto curling in, you can cover the pan.

By now your water should be boiling -- go ahead and add your ditalini.  I added the entire pound, but this receipe only calls for half a pound; I am using the other half in a recipe tomorrow.  OR -- if you're not super confident, turn the heat down and add the ditalini later ...

Go back to your prosciutto mix, and pour in some peas.  I started out adding about 1/3 of the large can, but after I stirred it up I decided to add another 1/3 of the can.

This was after the first pour -- still have about 2/3 of the can left. 

Much better.  If you double this recipe, the entire can should do the trick.
Once they are stirred in, pour in three cups of the heavy cream. 

This photo only shows two cups, but go ahead and add three.
Stir, stir, stir!  Keep stirring this sauce, letting the flavors mix and the heavy cream soak into everything!

It looks liquidy in this photo, but while the ditalini cooks, this will thicken.  You can cover it for a while if you think it's thickening too quickly, or leave it uncovered if you think it's too liquidy.

Add another Tablespoon of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  I gave my pepper mill about five or six grinds. Take a spoonful and see what you think. Make sure you're happy with the salt and pepper.  If you didn't put the ditalini in the water yet, do it now.  Just keep stirring your sauce while the ditalini cooks.  (Or turn down the heat and cover the sauce.  That works, too!)

My helpers really liked tasting the heavy cream.
I mean, REALLY liked it.

When your ditalini is done, drain it.

Pour the ditalini, a little at a time, into the sauce mix.  It should be creamy and coat everything with a little sauce to spare.  If it's too thick, add some of your heavy cream you reserved.  I probably added another whole cup at this stage.  You can see in the photo that I saved about half a pound for the mac-and-cheese I plan to make for the kids tomorrow.

Serve it up!  I was doing this as a test-kitchen meal tonight and completely forgot to make any bread, but some simple garlic bread is all you need to accompany this.

We served ours in pasta dishes.  Somehow, I forgot to take a photo.  Oh well!

Everyone -- even CAM -- thought it was a hit!

I hope you enjoy this as much as we did -- this is definitely going in our go-to file.  :)


p.s.  My  helpers also ate all the extra peas.  CAM smushed a few and was fascinated.  Then she showed WHM, and here is a recap of the best conversation of the day:
CAM:  This is a pea, WHM.  And you do you know what's inside a pea?  (as she smushes it) ... Pea poop!
WHM, fascinated:  Ohhhhhhhhh.

1 comment:

  1. We may be trying this one night this week - thanks for the step-by-step!