Every November in Sardinia, purple crocus flowers cover the rolling fields. It is a striking sight against a backdrop of lush greenery. These same flowers also provide what locals call “red gold” or saffron.
Saffron is one of the flavors that define the Italian island. First cultivated by the Phoenicians, saffron colors and flavors many dishes today, from small gnocchi called malloreddus to gelato and zeppole, a fried dough that is eaten at Carnival.
Naturally, being Italy, it also flavors the pasta – sometimes both the noodles and the sauce – and we were particularly taken with a vegetarian at the Sante Rughe restaurant in Gavoi. A few threads of saffron were simmered in milk, then mixed with salted ricotta for a rich, no-cook sauce to coat the ear-shaped orecchiette.
Our “COOKish” book version, which limits recipes to just six ingredients without sacrificing flavor, comes together quickly. Heat the milk with the saffron in the microwave, mix the ricotta with a little salt and pepper and add the cooked pasta. We add half a cup of mint for a layer of herbal freshness.
Cup-shaped orecchiette pasta is perfect for grabbing the slightly creamy sauce, although penne works well too. But be sure to use whole milk and whole milk ricotta; low-fat milk and cheese leave the dish taste too lean.
Orecchiette with Saffron, Ricotta and Mint
Start to finish: 20 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6
- ½ cup whole milk
- ½ teaspoon of saffron threads
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 1 pound orecchiette OR penne pasta
- ½ cup chopped fresh mint
- 1 ounce pecorino romano cheese,
- finely grated (½ cup),
- more more to serve
- In liquid measuring cup, heat milk and saffron in microwave until hot, about 1 minute; stir, then cool.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, saffron milk and ½ teaspoon salt and pepper.
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente, then drain and reserve some of the cooking water.
- Add the pasta to the ricotta mixture and mix.
- Stir in the mint and cheese, then season with salt and pepper.
- Serve sprinkled with additional cheese.
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