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"Baloney and cheese" pasta

Hold on, don't run off ... today's recipe is not what you think!

Actually, "baloney and cheese sandwiches" are an old favorite in this household, but I'm talking about a grown-up Italian variation on the traditional American childhood comfort food: Succulent rounds of mortadella (the original Bologna sausage from the real Bologna) studded with pistachios and peppercorns, layered with earthy provolone cheese (not Velveeta) and served with simple adornments (lettuce, tomato, a little mayo) on chewy, crusty ciabatta or Pugliese bread.

Last night I was in the mood for these flavors but wanted something that seemed more like dinner than a sandwich. Inspiration struck: Forget the bread, put all the usual suspects over pasta instead. A little ricotta thinned with milk to create a simple, lightly creamy sauce; a few shelled pistachios to add a little crunch for garnish, and voila (or viola, if you're a musician), dinner was served.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

4 ounces (125 grams) farfalle ("bowtie") or other short pasta
2 ounces ricotta cheese (use part-skim if you're counting calories)
2 ounces milk (feel free to use 2% or skim)
1 tablespoon (15 grams) butter
Black pepper
2 ounces provolone cheese, sliced medium-thin
4 ounces mortadella sausage, sliced medium-thin
1 small or 1/2 medium fresh tomato
About a dozen pistachios


1. Boil salted water in a large pot to cook the pasta. When the water comes to a full boil, put in the pasta, stir once or twice, and cook until al dente (about 12 minutes for farfalle, according to the package directions).

2. Put the ricotta and milk into a saucepan and stir to blend. Add the butter, and warm gently, stirring frequently, until the butter melts. Season with freshly ground black pepper and nutmeg to taste. (Because the cheeses and mortadella are salty, you probably won't need salt, but plan to check seasonings at the end.)

3. Cut the provolone and the mortadella into 1-inch (2.5 cm) squares. Note that mortadella is made both plain and with pistachios and peppercorns. I like the latter, but this dish (or the sandwich version) will work fine with either. Cut the tomato into wedges and shell the pistachios.

4. When the pasta is done, drain it well, and stir the pasta into the ricotta blend in the saucepan. Add the mortadella and provolone, stir to mix in, and divide it into warm bowls. Garnish with the tomato wedges and pistachios and serve with bread and a green vegetable or salad.


WINE MATCH: This will work with a fruity red or a full-bodied white, but either way, it really ought to be Italian. The "dried-cherry" flavors of a Veneto red, Begali 2000 "Vigneto la Cengia" Valpolicella Classico Superiore, made a particularly good match with the mild sausage and cheese.

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Thursday, Oct. 30, 2003
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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