SERVES 4 to 6
Malloreddus is the national pasta dish of Sardinia and the big cousin to fregola, another traditional pasta. The term malloreddu comes from the Latin mallolus and means morsel or little bits of pasta dough that are hand-rolled on a round reed basket to make the characteristic shape and lines in the dough.
Another more recognizable word for this type of pasta is gnocchi, a little dumpling of flour and water. Malloreddus is made from grano duro (hard wheat flour) and there are many variations. They can be found in Italian specialty stores or ordered by mail. Here they are combined with saffron and tomato and served with fresh or store-bought Italian sausage flavored with fennel seeds. This recipe is from my Sardinian friends Mario and Giulia Cocco.
1 teaspoon Filippo Berio Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
3/4 pound fresh or store-bought Italian sausage with fennel seeds, casings removed and crumbled into pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 teaspoons crushed fennel seeds, to your taste
1 3/4 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped, or one 28-ounce can tomatoes
1/2 cup (2 ounces) diced drained dried tomatoes in olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 package powdered saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons warm water
1 large bay leaf
6 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
3/4 pound plain or flavored malloreddus
1/2 cup grated Pecorino cheese
In a nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil, then add the sausage and cook slowly over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink but not browned. With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a bowl, leaving the fat behind.
Discard all but 1 teaspoon of the fat in the skillet. Add the garlic and fennel seeds and cook, stirring, until the garlic begins to turn golden brown. Stir in the fresh or canned tomatoes, dried tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, saffron, bay leaf, and basil leaves. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the sauce, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Uncover the skillet and cook 5 minutes more. Return the sausage to the skillet, mixing it in well and cook 3 to 4 minutes longer. Cover the sauce and keep it warm while the malloreddus are cooking.
Cook the malloreddus according to the directions until al dente. Drain and transfer them to a large bowl. Remove the bay leaf from the sauce before adding it to the malloreddus. Pour 2 ¼ cups of the sauce (freeze the rest) over the malloreddus, mix well, then transfer the mixture to a serving platter. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and serve immediately.
Note: Crush fennel seeds in a spice mill or on a cutting board with a chef's knife. To prevent the seeds from scattering off the board, spray the board with a little olive oil spray; the seeds will stay in place.
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