Returning to our Roots: Pasta al Pastore

Pasta al Pastore (Calabrian Shepherd's Pasta)

I remember reading, though I forget where exactly, another food blogger had written words to the effect that any time you start getting a big head about how great your blog is, take a look back at your earliest posts and it will bring you back to earth with a bump. Great advice, though it could just as easily reinforce your view that you’ve come a long way. Indeed, many of us long time bloggers have done just that from those dimly lit, low contrast beginnings, paving the way, I like to think, for all those parvenues with their new cameras and fancier blog templates.

Ironically though, for us at least, what we notice looking back is that while we still love the food we post on our site, it’s often a different kind of food — more complex and, in some cases, pretty arcane — to what we posted back in the beginning. Granted, our technical skills in the kitchen have grown immeasurably in this period as we’ve pushed ourselves to try new techniques, styles and flavor combinations — though we’re still lousy bakers and very limited on the dessert front — but our tastes haven’t changed all that much. We still love the same kinds of unpretentious, rustic cooking, with a distinct bent for the ugly parts of the beast, that we always did, so why don’t we cook like that anymore?

The truth is that we actually do, but that uniquely competitive nature of food blogging makes us feel like we shouldn’t post about it. It’ll seem a presumptuous comparison to anyone who is familiar with his expertise, but when Zen Chef went through a period in the recent past where he remade many of his old posts and noted the improvements in recipe, presentation and technique, it made us feel like we should do the same, if only to update some the godawful shots we took first time around.

Pasta al Pastore (Calabrian Shepherd's Pasta)

In fact, we actually eat many of the dishes we used to post about on a regular basis as week night staples and can produce them faultlessly without thinking about it. Returning to that kind of blogging – this is what we made for dinner, this is what we ate at a hole in the wall place on vacation – would, in many ways, be more honest. Sure, we love Guyanese chow mein, bandeja paisa, mofongo and locro de mondongo, but they aren’t the kind of dishes we eat more than a couple of times a year.

So, it’s motivated by a desire to return, however briefly, to our roots as much as it is against this kind of over-thinking that we decided to do this post. My mother, whose encyclopedic use of regional English idioms was one of her great charms, used to say that the pretentious and the poseurs, those overly concerned with their appearance, were in danger of disappearing up their own trouser legs, and in order to avoid this is rather awkward demise, I decided to post this simple pasta dish from Calabria.

Pasta al Pastore (Calabrian Shepherd's Pasta)

Pasta al pastore or shepherd’s pasta, is nothing more than crumbled hot or sweet Italian sausage (in this case a pound of loose homemade hot sausage meat – thanks Michael Ruhlman), a couple of ladles of pasta water and half a tub of fresh ricotta. There’s nothing to it, but nor is there anything missing. It’s as totally unremarkable as it is exciting and delicious, and could be found just as easily on the menu of a white table cloth restaurant as our house on a Tuesday night. That this is a Lidia Bastianich recipe also returns us to our origins as PBS fans fond of regional Italian cucina povera. Sure, we’ve betrayed our best intentions to go natural and rustic a little by gussying up the plating a little with chive flowers, but our excuse is that we have glut of them in our pots right now and using them up is as honest as it comes.

Pasta al Pastore – Calabrian Shepherd’s-style Pasta (serves 4)
(adapted not at all from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy by Lidia Bastianich)


  • 4 hot (or sweet) Italian sausages, skins removed and crumbled
  • 1lb package rigatoni or other tubular pasta
  • 1/2lb fresh ricotta
  • abundant salted water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Grated pecorino cheese (optional).


  1. Boil well salted water in a large pot
  2. In a large skillet or saute pan, heat oil and crumble in sausage meat. Saute until cooked through.
  3. Add pasta to water and cook for around 7 minutes until under done by about two minutes – i.e. in cross-section pasta is uncooked in the middle
  4. Reserving 2-3 ladles of pasta water, remove pasta from water and add to sausage in saute pan.
  5. Ladle in 2 ladles of pasta water and stir together.
  6. When pasta is cooked through, kill the heat and stir in ricotta.
  7. Sprinkle with grated pecorino and serve with a hearty southern Italian red
  • 21 thoughts on “Returning to our Roots: Pasta al Pastore

    1. The chive flowers are beautiful. Ad color – but must have been a pain to snip them all off that size.
      Simple but wonderful (especially if you can get good ingredients).

    2. Great post…I enjoyed your musings about blogging, then and now. We share similar likes and styles in the kitchen (except those offals for which I’m a bit reserved). Your ‘There’s nothing to it, but nor is there anything missing. It’s as totally unremarkable as it is exciting and delicious,” comment really resonated with me.

    3. @Joshua: snipping the chives was the most time consuming part of making this dish!
      @Joan: thanks so much. Sometimes the most remarkable things are the simplest, and we had been in danger of forgetting that.

    4. Yes, Jonny, you were right! This is one I could and will make. These are some of our favorite ingedients. (I have made a similar dish – adding eggplant along with the sausage.) This “unremarkable” dish sounds great, looks even better, “exciting and delicious”. You have inspired me to try it for dinner this week!

    5. I think it’s a relief to revisit old posts, too, because after five+ years at it, I may have begun to run out of ideas. I think I’ve blogged tomato soup at least four times.

      Frankly, I think my old posts are better than what I’ve been doing lately. I’m glad to see you guys are continuing to move along a forward trajectory.

    6. @Heather – I’m sure you do yourself an injustice and us too great an honor. You certainly post more often that we do now, so perhaps our infrequency suggests a more concerted approach?
      @Emiglia: they kind of do, but with a milder, more floral note, but I’m not sure that necessarily helps explain things much.
      @Neil: right on!

    7. Hmm that’s just my kind of dish!!
      So loved this post and the genuine feeling behind it. Made me want to look at your older posts for sure!

    8. Beautiful and simple.

      Granted my own food photography still sucks (granted it’s marginally better when I bother to trot out the light box I got for my birthday last summer), but my earliest posts had no photos at all and were just stream-of-consciousness recipes. Perhaps I should have a do-over of someof those old recipes and at lesat photograph them and right them out properly!

    9. OMG! Did I just say “right them out”.

      Spelling was my best subject in elementary school. Really it was. I was considered a topnotch writer by my English teachers. Let’s try this again.

      Write them out!

    10. We have come a long way… but that is part of the fun… that and telling of flubs and messes. It makes bloggers more human and accessible. Often when I read those glorious cookbooks in my early days as a cook I would feel “how can I do this… perfection??” Now I know they had as many flubs as we do and knowing where they had problems makes it easy to not step in the same hole.

      That said… glorious, simple pasta… those chive flowers are worth the effort. ONe of my favorite pastas is made with herb flowers in the dough…ancient Chez Panisse recipe…soooo good~

    11. I’m fascinated with Calabria lately. I just attended a class taught by the author of My Calabria, and this style of cooking seems completely right to me. If only I could get some sheep milk to make ricotta. And, you chive flowers look great!

    12. such a thoughtful post.
      while I haven’t been at it as long as you guys, what I notice is that simplest is best, in terms of what sparks the reader. (that, and anything dessert-like)

      staying true to your roots–yes–with the understanding that there’s always something to learn from a basic dish, another way to make it fresh, or anew.

    13. I still love your simple sausage ragu and pea recipe, I make it all the time in the winter w/ amazing homemade sausage!
      Love the simplicity of pasta al pastore, and the chive flowers make it special!

    14. I think the amount of nodding I managed to do while reading this post probably made my office mates wonder about my sanity. But, impressions be damned. It’s all true, and it’s why I love you guys.

      And simple, lovely, simply lovely pasta recipes are yet another reason why I keep coming back over and over again. Bon Appetit!

    15. “we’re still lousy bakers and very limited on the dessert front”
      Ha! Me too, that’s why I love you guys!

      Glad you added the chive blossoms, they do not contradict anything you said.

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