This rustic pasta dish comes from the Maremma region of Tuscany, where the families of cattle ranchers traditionally used pork in their ragus in lieu of more expensive beef. Today the dish is sometimes referred to as ‘cowboy-style’ rigatoni.
I first had pasta alla buttera at an Italian restaurant called Il Cantinori in New York City, a far cry from the cattle ranches of coastal Tuscany but oh so delicious. Theirs was spicy, with finely ground sausage, a splash of cream and green peas. I came up my own, at-home version, and it’s been a winter-time staple at our house ever since.
While pasta alla buttera is not a traditional Christmas-time dish in Italy, I always make it during the holidays when I want something fast, crowd-pleasing, and special.
With it’s rich, bright red sauce and green peas, it even looks Christmasy! You can use any short pasta shape here. Rigatoni and campanelle are my favorites to catch all the delicious sauce, but use what you have on hand! But do make sure to use a jarred sauce you really like for this recipe; it makes a huge difference. If you don’t love spicy foods, you can substitute marinara for the arrabiata, and add just a pinch or two of red pepper flakes for a mild heat.
Pasta alla Buttera
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound rigatoni or other short pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound sweet Italian pork sausage, casings removed
- 1 (24-ounce) jar Arrabiata sauce, such as Rao's
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- ¾ cup frozen green peas
- ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Chopped fresh parsley, for serving (optional)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta until al dente and drain, reserving 1 cup pasta water.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, crumbling with a wooden spoon, until browned, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add the marinara sauce and ½ teaspoon salt and bring to a simmer, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the cream and 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes over medium-low, or until sauce has thickened enough to coat a piece of pasta. Add the pasta and peas and toss well. If the sauce seems dry, add another splash of the reserved pasta water.
- Off the heat, add the Parmesan and toss well. Serve hot, sprinkled with chopped fresh parsley, if desired.