Hello, everyone! I’ve got another Pecorino Romano recipe for you this week, as well as some more information I gleaned from my last meeting with Pecorino Romano cheese producers.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I have a soft spot in my heart for geographical indications (GIs), which stems from my background in intellectual property law. Yes, cheese and law do sometimes combine! With regards to Pecorino Romano, all Pecorino Romano cheese is protected under a PDO label, or “Protected Designation of Origin.” That means that every wheel of Pecorino Romano needs to meet strict production standards, and will either have the label of the Consorzio Per La Tutela Del Formaggio Pecorino Romano or cheese name stamped into the rind. Anything else is not likely to be true Pecorino Romano. Not all cheeses are held to this kind of strict standard, so when you do find a PDO-label cheese, you can be sure of its quality. Unless it’s an illegal counterfeit, in which case, anything goes.
Of course, it’s sometimes far more fun to eat cheese than talk about labeling requirements. Chef Caroline Fey of The City Kitchen in SF prepared a parade of Pecorino Romano-infused dishes for everyone at this meeting, and I completely fell in love with her Sardinian Saffron Gnocchi with Sausage Ragu and Grated Pecorino Romano. Luckily, she was happy to share the recipe!
Sardinian Saffron Gnocchi with Sausage Ragu and Grated Pecorino Romano
Serves 4 as a first course
3-4 saffron threads
3 tablespoons warm water for saffron, plus more as needed
1 ¼ cups semolina flour, plus extra for dusting
Fresh basil sprigs or micro basil
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 small onion, finely diced
1 small carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
¾ lb sweet Italian pork sausage, casings removed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3-4 saffron threads
2 fresh bay leaves
1 rosemary sprig
1 16-oz can of diced roma tomatoes
¼ cup roughly chopped basil leaves
¾ cup grated Pecorino Romano
Stand mixer with dough hook
Combine saffron and 3 tablespoons of warm water in a small bowl, and let soak for 3-4 minutes. Sift flour and a pinch of salt into the electric mixer bowl, and begin the machine. While the machine is mixing, pour the saffron water into the flour, and mix until it’s absorbed. Start adding more warm water a bit at a time until you have slightly firm dough, the consistency of Play-Doh. Transfer the dough onto a clean, lightly floured countertop, and knead with the heels of your hands until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Roll into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour before using. After that resting period, place the pasta dough on a clean, dry countertop, and cut into four quarters. Roll out one quarter at a time, using the palms of your hands, into logs about ¼ inch wide. If dough starts to stick to the surface, dust the counter very lightly with flour. If the dough starts slipping on the surface instead of rolling, put a drop of water on your hands. Cut the pasta into small pieces, about the size of a chickpea. Sprinkle with flour and set aside.
Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add oil, onion, carrot, and celery and cook until soft and golden at the edges. Add the sausage, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook for 8-10 minutes, or until well browned. Stir in tomato paste, saffron, bay leaves, and rosemary and cook for another minute. Add tomatoes and their juice, basil, and 1 cup of water, and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally and crushing the meat slightly, until the sauce is thick, about 30 minutes. If the sauce becomes too thick to your taste, add a little bit of water. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to boil. Cook pasta until tender—about 10-12 minutes. Drain the gnocchi, reserving about 1 cup of pasta water. Toss the Pecorino Romano with the gnocchi, then add sauce. Cook for 1-2 minutes, or until just warm. Add some pasta water if the sauce becomes too thick. Drizzle with olive oil, garnish with basil, and serve immediately.
There you have it! Happy cooking, Miss Cheesemongerites!
If you liked this recipe, check out the cavalo nero salad recipe featuring Pecorino Romano.