I’d like to dedicate this post to my friend Stewart, as we have spent many long walks dreaming of taking a week or two and attending a cooking school in Italy.  I am hoping that 2011 just might be the year that we make it happen.
These three pasta dishes are relatively quick to throw together, especially if you have the components prepped in advance.  And they all taste best if you serve them right away.  Two tips for all pasta dishes: Always reserve a cup or so of the cooking water before you drain the pasta.  It is the perfect liquid for loosening the sauce and rewarming pasta.  And, when a pasta dish calls for zest, as two of the recipes below do, try to use one of the Micoplane brand zesters.  They create a fine, snowy zest that just melts into the pasta.
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Linguine alla Carbonara di Salsiccia

(Sausage Carbonara)
     I was nervous to try Carbonara because it involves tossing eggs with hot pasta to create a luxurious, creamy sauce (or, I feared, a mess of hot pasta and scrambled eggs!) But it came together like a dream and while this is certainly a rich, special occasion dish, I am thrilled to add it to my collection.
     There are a couple of differences between my photos of this dish and the Jamie Oliver recipe that I am going to post below.  First of all, I was out of linguine so I had to use spaghetti and secondly, I didn’t have any pancetta so I made it without.  Next time I plan to use the pancetta and leave out the sausage because this decadent, creamy, lemony pasta really doesn’t need much more in my opinion (and the dish would come together even quicker).  But the little meatballs are fun for sausage lovers.
4 good quality sweet Italian sausages
olive oil
4 slices of thick cut pancetta, chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound dried linguine
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese
zest of one lemon
a sprig of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
extra virgin olive oil
With a sharp knife, slit the sausage skins lengthwise an pop all the meat out.  Using wet hands, roll little balls of sausage meat about the size of large marbles and place them to one side.
Heat a large frying pan and add a good splash of olive oil.  Gently fry the sausage meatballs until golden brown all over, then add the pancetta and continue cooking fro a couple of minutes until it’s golden.  While this is cooking, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add the linguine, and cook according to the package instructions.
In a large bowl, whip up the egg yolks, cream, half the Parmesan, the lemon zest, and the parsley.  When the pasta is cooked, drain it in a colander, reserving a little of the cooking water, and immediately toss it quickly with the egg mixture back in the pasta pot.  Add the hot sausage meatballs and toss everything together,  The egg will cook delicately from the heat of the linguine, just enough for it to thicken and not scramble.  The sauce should be smooth and silky.  If the pasta becomes a little sticky, add a few spoonfuls of the reserved cooking water to loosen it slightly,  Sprinkle over the rest of the Parmesan, season if necessary, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and serve.  Eat immediately!
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Penne with Ricotta and Spinach

 
This quick, one pot pasta dish is from Cook What You Love, by Bob and Melinda Blanchard.  I love it for a vegetarian entree but it would also make a great side dish for chicken or salmon.
1 pound penne pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces baby spinach leaves
1 cup ricotta cheese (I use whole milk ricotta)
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into strips
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the penne and cook until tender but still firm.  Drain and return to the pot.  (don’t forget to save a cup of the cooking water, just in case)
With the heat on very low, add the olive oil, salt, pepper, spinach, ricotta, basil, parsley, and 1 cup of the Parmesan to the penne and mix well.  Heat gently, stirring occasionally.  As soon as the spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes, remove the pot from the heat.  Serve immediately, topped with the remaining Parmesan.
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Spaghetti con Gamberetti e Rucola

(Spaghetti with Shrimp and Arugula)
This recipe is from Jamie’s Italy, by Jamie Oliver.  I’ve made it many, many times and it is one of our favorites.  The only advice I have is to only use a wine that you would be happy to drink.  It does makes a difference.  (I found that out the hard way)
1 pound dried spaghetti
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 pound large fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined (I like to butterfly them)
1 small wineglass of white wine
2 heaping tablespoons sun-dried tomato paste (I like the one sold in a tube, for convenience)
1/2 tablespoon butter (my addition)
zest and juice of one lemon
2 handfuls of fresh arugula, roughly chopped
Cook your spaghetti in a large pot of salted boiling water according to the package instructions.  Meanwhile, heat 3 good glugs of extra virgin olive oil in a large frying pan and toss in the garlic and chili flakes.  As the garlic begins to color, add the shrimp and saute them for a minute.  Add the white wine and the tomato puree and the butter and simmer for a couple of minutes.   When the pasta is ready, drain it in a colander, reserving a little of the cooking water,  Toss the spaghetti with the sauce, squeeze in the lemon juice, and add half the chopped arugula, using a little of the reserved cooking water if you want to loosen the sauce a bit, and correct the seasoning.  Divide between four plates and sprinkle with the grated lemon zest and the rest of the arugula leaves.
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