How about a hearty bowl of rigatoni with merguez? These and other treats are found in Chris Santos’s new cookbook, Share. He’s a judge on Food Network’s Chopped and chef-founder of NYC’s Beauty & Essex, so take his word for it when he says, “You’re going to love this.”
Here it is — my favorite pasta dish. Ever. I learned to make it with torchio, an unusual funnel-shaped Venetian pasta, but any tube-shaped kind will do. The dish isn’t saucy, so you can really taste the individual flavors, and the merguez, with its spicy harissa flavor, has an unexpected kick. Both parsley and mint provide fresh accents.
Chef Talk: Merguez is lamb sausage, boldly seasoned with harissa, the North African spice paste. Because it is pork-free, you’ll often find merguez at halal and kosher butchers. As an easy substitute, mix 1 pound ground lamb, 1 to 2 tablespoons harissa (sold at specialty markets and online), 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 2 garlic cloves, shredded on a Microplane zester.
- 1 pound ziti or other tube-shaped pasta
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
- 1 pound merguez sausage, casings removed
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup shredded ricotta salata cheese
- 1/2 cup Sicilian Bread Crumbs or pan-toasted soft breadcrumbs
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
Sicilian Bread Crumbs
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 3 cups cubed (1-inch) trimmed brioche, challah or crusty Italian bread
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsely
For the breadcrumbs
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. With the machine running, drop the garlic through the tube of a food processor to mince the garlic. Add the bread cubes, oil, and parsley and pulse until the bread becomes coarse crumbs. Spread on an 18-by-13-inch half-sheet pan. Bake, stirring occasionally, until the crumbs are lightly toasted and smell garlicky, 7 to 10 minutes. Let cool. Makes 2 cups. Measure out 1 cup of the breadcrumbs. (Reserve the remaining breadcrumbs for another use; they can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 1 month.)
For the rigatoni
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions until al dente. Drain well and rinse under cold running water.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until the milk solids in the saucepan turn hazelnut brown, about 2 minutes. Immediately pour the melted butter into a small bowl.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a very large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, occasionally stirring and breaking it up with the side of the spoon into bite-size pieces, until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until it softens, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste and parsley and mix well. Pour into a colander to drain the excess fat. Clean the skillet.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the sausage mixture and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Transfer the pasta mixture to a serving bowl. Add the browned butter and mix well. Top with the ricotta salata, breadcrumbs, and mint. Drizzle with additional olive oil, toss, and serve immediately.