Food & Drink

Cooking Off the Cuff: Gorgonzola, Milk and Arugula – Among the Simplest and Easiest of Elegant Pasta Sauces

It took a Web search for me to confirm that I hadn’t written properly about this pasta dish, one of the simplest and easiest ever, and among our favorite dinners. I’d mentioned it any number of times but somehow never got around to describing it in any detail. It consists of four ingredients including the pasta, and no seasonings beyond the salt in the cooking water. It requires no knife skills – indeed, no knives – yet it is one of the more elegant dishes you’re likely to serve.

Jackie and I first ate pasta with gorgonzola and arugula (rocket) in 1993 at Ristorante Dino in Florence, which is still in business. It was a knockout – super-creamy without heaviness, piquant (from both the cheese and the spicy arugula) and, well, elegant. When we see young, tender arugula (this American term appears to be an elision of the Italian la rucola, by the way) in the market and the right sort of cheese at the cheesemonger, the dish always comes to mind, and we eat it a couple of times a year, alone as our complete dinner or with friends as a first course.

“The right sort of cheese” here is gorgonzola dolce – sweet gorgonzola – sold either under that name or as gorgonzola cremificato. It is is a wonderful cheese that combines considerable sharpness with a soft, spreadable consistency and high-fat creaminess. For this dish, you don’t want to use sharper, firmer, longer-aged gorgonzola (also sold under several names: piccante, naturale, di montagna...). Nor do you want any of the gorgonzola derivatives, where the cheese is mixed or layered with mascarpone or other ingredients: these are too bland.

For two main-dish or four (or even more) first-course portions, I use a total of 6 oz (170 g) dried pasta, though you could increase this to the classic 100 grams per person quota without altering the other quantities. I’ve used, with equal success, many short forms such as shells, ziti, penne, ditalini and, latterly, the much larger rigatoni. Whichever you choose, boil it until almost but not quite done.

While the pasta is boiling – or an hour in advance if that’s more convenient – take a skillet or sauté pan large enough to eventually hold the pasta and heat 1/2 cup (120 ml) milk; when it is hot, whisk in 5 oz (140 g) of gorgonzola dolce or cremificato over medium-low heat. (For this, I remove much of the rind to ensure a smoother sauce, so I start with more than the five-ounce quantity.) When it melts, you already have the best cheese sauce on the block. Remove it from the heat until the pasta is at the not-quite-ready point, then reheat it and add the drained pasta, stirring for a minute or so over low heat to finish the pasta.

Finally, stir and fold in a mountain of young tender arugula, possibly but not necessarily the kind sold as “wild” (this leafy mountain will weigh only 2 oz / 60 g). If you fear that yours isn’t all that tender, strip away the tougher stalks, yielding something like the prescribed weight of leaves. You can roughly chop it or not; I leave it whole unless it is gigantic. Like spinach, arugula wilts and shrinks radically after just a few seconds over heat, and when it has done this, your dinner is ready to serve.

No salt, no pepper, no butter, no last-minute drizzle of oil and, certainly, no grated parmesan. Just four ingredients that need nothing more.

<p>Rigatoni with gorgonzola and arugula (rocket): A three-ingredient sauce</p>

Rigatoni with gorgonzola and arugula (rocket): A three-ingredient sauce

<p>The best choice for this dish: “Sweet” gorgonzola, sold as gorgonzola dolce or gorgonzola cremificato</p>

The best choice for this dish: “Sweet” gorgonzola, sold as gorgonzola dolce or gorgonzola cremificato

<p>Melting the gorgonzola into a half cup of milk</p>

Melting the gorgonzola into a half cup of milk

<p>Almost homogeneous</p>

Almost homogeneous

<p>Nearly-done rigatoni finish cooking in gorgonzola sauce</p>

Nearly-done rigatoni finish cooking in gorgonzola sauce

<p>This much arugula (rocket)</p>

This much arugula (rocket)

<p>The greens wilt down quickly</p>

The greens wilt down quickly

<p>The finished dish</p>

The finished dish