Rigatoni with Five Lilies and Ricotta Salata

Adapted from The Babbo Cookbook and the San Francisco Chronicle

I tore this recipe out of the Chronicle a few years ago, back when The Babbo Cookbook first came out, and I’m kicking myself for not trying it earlier. If you feel any sort of affinity for either leeks or caramelized onions, do not delay: this recipe will be a keeper in your kitchen. It certainly will be in ours. To wit: between mouthfuls, Brandon said to me, “You know, your blog is really good for us. We’re such creatures of habit. If it weren’t for Orangette, we’d probably eat this every night for weeks.” I nodded, but what I really wanted to say was, “Screw the variety-for-the-sake-of-the-blog thing! I want more rigatoni.” Oh, Orangette, the sacrifices I make for you.

A final note: Brandon tried squeezing a bit of lemon over his serving, and he found it quite tasty. At his suggestion, I have included optional lemon wedges below.

3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. sweet onions, such as Walla Walla or Vidalia, cut in half from stem to root and then into ¼-inch slices
2 Tbs unsalted butter
5 medium garlic cloves, minced
½ lb. leeks, cut into 1/8-inch rings and washed
½ lb. red onions, quartered and sliced
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
½ cup water
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 lb. rigatoni

To serve:

4 oz. ricotta salata, coarsely grated
¼ cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 small handful chives, finely chopped
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
Lemon wedges, optional

In a large (12- to 14-inch) skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the sweet onions, and reduce the heat. Cook over medium-low, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent; then raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until deeply golden and caramelized. Remove the pan from the heat, and transfer the onions to a bowl. Set aside.

In the same skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. When it has stopped foaming and is thoroughly melted, add the garlic, leeks, red onion, and scallions, and cook, stirring regularly, until very soft and golden. Add the water, and cook until the liquid evaporates. Season lightly with salt. Remove from the heat, and stir in the sweet onions.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the rigatoni until tender but al dente. In the last minute of cooking, return the onion mixture to medium-high heat. Drain the pasta, add it to the onion mixture, and toss over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and toss more, if necessary, to thoroughly disperse the onions amidst the pasta. Serve immediately, topped with plenty of ricotta salata and sprinklings of parsley and chives. Salt as needed, and finish with a quick squeeze of lemon, if you like.

Yield: 4 servings