This is a popular dish in southern Maremma, where butteri, hardy and hard-working cowboys who raised an ancient Tuscan breed of longhorn cattle, are a local icon – legend has it that they even outshone Buffalo Bill when he visited Italy in 1890 to show off his cowboy skills.
It’s the sort of dish that you can find at country fairs, piled into plastic bowls, covered with a blanket of grated pecorino to be washed down with local wine – a definite crowd pleaser. As I dove into every bowl I could find, the thing that struck me most about rigatoni alla buttera was that each recipe was completely different to the next – it’s a dish where you use up whatever you have on hand, and likely leftovers too.
The irony is that the butteri were raising cattle for nobility, who were the only ones who could afford to eat beef – the butteri themselves ate anything but. So the resulting sauce is an incredibly tasty mix of prosciutto, pancetta, sausage, perhaps some chicken livers, really anything to “beef up”, so to speak, this ragu that does not actually have any beef in it.
Note: Choose good quality sausages. Go for fresher sausages over aged ones (they will be softer, so easier to crumble and incorporate into the sauce) with no gluten or anything else added that might affect the texture of the ragu. If you can’t find rigatoni, go for penne pasta.
IngredientS (SERVES 4)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 brown/yellow onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
½ celery stick, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
30 grams of prosciutto, cut into thin strips
60 grams of pancetta, cut into thin strips or diced
a few sage leaves
1 sprig rosemary, leaves chopped
300 grams of pork and fennel sausage, casings removed (see note)
125 ml dry white wine
200 grams tomato passata (puree)
320 grams dried rigatoni (large tube-shaped pasta) or penne pasta
Pecorino or parmesan cheese for serving
Place olive oil in a wide skillet and, over low heat, add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, prosciutto, pancetta and herbs with a pinch of salt and cook, covered, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes or until vegetables have softened and the fat is transparent.
Add the sausages, crumbling the meat into the pan, and cook, stirring, over medium heat, to brown it, about 10 minutes.
Pour over the white wine and let cook down for about 5-7 minutes. A
Add the tomato puree along with about 500 ml water and bring to a simmer. Cook on low for about 40 minutes, topping up with water as necessary and stirring occasionally.
After about half an hour, check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary (this is a fairly robust sauce with lots of flavour from the prosciutto, pancetta and sausage so you may not need any extra salt). Set aside.
Put a large pot of water on to boil the pasta. Once boiling, add salt (about 1 teaspoon per litre) and tip in the pasta.
Boil until al dente, then drain and toss with the sauce.
Serve with plenty of finely grated pecorino or parmesan cheese.
This recipe is an edited extract taken from Acquacotta by Emiko Davies, published by Hardie Grant Books RRP AUD$50 and is available in stores nationally.