Maccheroncini con Ricotta e Carciofi
Region: Italy, Sicily
Category: Pasta with Cheese
It is common to think of Sicily as the land of olives and it is. But in both ancient and medieval times butter was very popular and that explains why it is not uncommon to see it appear abundantly in a preparation like this. The Greek-Sicilian historian Diodorus Siculus (90-21 B.C.) tells us of the sacred temple erected to the Erycinian Venus at Segestum, a Roman town in Sicily near Mt. Eryx where during ancient feasts the temple reeked of butter to prove that the goddess had returned from North Africa. Even in fifteenth century Sicily butter occupied an important place in the islands food consumption. In Corleone it constituted an essential, and sometimes the whole, of the accompaniment of the agricultural workers. Normally butter was bought by the quartara, a huge jug. Fresh cheese and ricotta also played an unexpected role in the medieval food consumption of Sicily. Ricotta was traditional for Easter among Christians and goat ricotta was used to make the famous Sicilian cake, cassata, while Sicilian Jews were the great consumers and retailers of ricotta and tuma and they made it for Purim.[photo: Clifford A. Wright]
Yield: Makes 3 servings
Preparation Time: 45 minutes
3 fresh artichokes, trimmed and hearts cut into strips (bracts boiled and flesh scraped off for canapes if desired)
Juice from 1 lemon
1/2 cup water
3 ounces pancetta, cut into strips
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2/3 cups vegetable, chicken, or veal broth
6 ounces fresh ricotta cheese, passed through a sieve
3 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino cheese
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 pound maccheroncini or any small tubular macaroni
1. Place the artichoke hearts in a non-metallic bowl with the lemon juice and water until needed.
2. In a skillet, cook the pancetta with half the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to get crispy, about 12 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, drain the artichoke hearts and dry with paper towels. Add the artichokes to the skillet, season with salt and pepper, add 1/3 cup broth and cook, stirring and adding the remaining broth when it looks dry, until tender, 18 to 20 minutes.
4. In a flame-proof casserole, melt the remaining butter over medium heat, then add the ricotta. Stir until blended, and then add the artichokes and their sauce. Reduce the heat to very low, using a heat diffuser if you burner doesn't have a simmer setting. Add the pecorino cheese to the eggs and pour into the casserole with the artichokes and cook until needed, stirring frequently.
5. For every pound of pasta, bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat, salt abundantly with up to 1/2 cup of salt, then add the pasta in handfuls. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally so the pasta doesn't stick together, until al dente. Drain without rinsing.
6. Add the pasta to the casserole with the sauce, stir well and serve.