rigatoni alla buttera

Cowboy-style rigatoni

This is a popular dish in southern Maremma, where (cowboys, or in this case, their wives) are local icons. We ordered it at a sagra (local festival), where it arrived steaming in a flimsy plastic bowl with a plastic fork. We sat under fluorescent lights at the long, communal table, with a cheap, cold bottle of bianco di Pitigliano.

A blanket of pecorino covered the pasta, and I can still remember the incredible flavour. I gave a forkful to my husband, Marco, and watched his eyes light up. "What do you think is in this?!'' I asked him. With every bite we tried guessing the combination of ingredients.

Afterwards, we found the list of what was in the dishes (it's always posted somewhere at a sagra) and realised our guesses were, for the most part, wrong. Marco was convinced its tastiness was due to chicken livers, but it was actually something so simple. Pork sausages, pancetta, the usual battuto of onion, celery and carrot, and wine and tomato. I had to try this at home.

Serves 4 time 1 hour 20 minutes

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 1 brown (yellow) onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped stalk of celery, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped 30g prosciutto, cut into thin strips 60g pancetta, cut into thin strips or diced
A few sage leaves
1 sprig of rosemary, leaves chopped
300g pork sausages, casings removed
125ml dry white wine
200g tomato passata
320g dried rigatoni or penne
Finely grated pecorino or parmesan, to serve

Pour the oil into a wide frying pan and add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, prosciutto, pancetta and herbs with a pinch of salt. Cover the pan and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables have softened and the fat is transparent. Add the sausages, crumbling the meat into the pan. Cook over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring to brown all sides.

Pour over the wine and let it cook down for 5-7 minutes.

Add the passata and 500m1 water and bring to a simmer. Cook over a low heat for about
30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary, then continue cooking for a further 10 minutes or so. You should have a well-reduced, thick, rich sauce. Set aside.

Put the pasta in a large pot of well-salted boiling water. Boil until al dente, then drain and toss with the sauce.

Serve with plenty of finely grated cheese.

In Tuscany, sausages are always pork, have natural casings and are only flavoured with a few fennel seeds. Choose good-quality sausages. Go for fresh rather than aged ones as they will be softer, easier to crumble and incorporate into the sauce. Make sure there is no gluten or anything else added that might affect the texture of cooked meat.