That title's a mouthful, isn't it! But I didn't think I could omit any of those elements because they all play a major role in this dish. This is a departure from the kind of pasta dishes I usually make and, in my opinion, a departure from typical pasta dishes in general. The key is the simple and flavorful homemade tomato broth. I wouldn't call it a sauce, but this is not a soup by any means. Whatever it is, it works beautifully.
I'd love to take full credit, but I found this recipe in the New York Times food section a couple weeks ago. Or rather, I found the photo. Before I read exactly what it was, I already knew I had to make it. Whether it was the snowy fresh ricotta or the thick knubby pasta, the visual just appealed to me.
The recipe was actually featured in an article about a trend among NY chefs of serving homemade ricotta. As it turns out, making ricotta at home is incredibly simple. I almost went ahead and did it myself (cheese making is just cool, ya know?), but then I figured there was a high likelihood I would end up with bland cheese that didn't live up to the store bought version--and that would be depressing. So, that's Sorrento ricotta in the photo. As it turns out, a couple bloggers confirmed what I thought--the cheese making process is nifty, but the result is kind of bland.
I'm proud to say my version looks strikingly similar to that original photo in the Times. I was pleased to find great fresh Cavatelli (which I learned from Babette Feasts is a like a cross between gnocchi and regular pasta) at the nearby gourmet market and deli. The thick, starchy pasta does a great job of soaking up the broth, but I think a nice imported orechiette would be a good choice too, or small gnocchi for that matter. The recipe, from the Little Owl restaurant in New York, called for peas and bacon, but I immediately decided to use fresh fava beans and diced pancetta instead. Use fresh (blanched and peeled) or frozen favas if you can find them, but definitely use pancetta. It adds a distinct rich meaty flavor that doesn't include the salt or the smokiness of many bacons. I just love it, and it makes the dish taste special.
Like I mentioned, you need to make a tomato broth, but it's so easy! Do not bother substituting purchased broth. All you have to do is simmer a can of plum tomatoes with carrot, celery, onion and a few other goodies for flavor--30 minutes and you're done. Here is the link to the recipe (email me if the link doesn't work for some reason) and the article if you're interested. And if you're up for trying fresh ricotta, the Times provided that recipe as well. Like I said, I used fava beans and pancetta in place of the peas and bacon, so follow my lead or come up with your own variation!