Though they’re rarely available here, packages of mixed pasta shapes are a common sight in gourmet shops in Italy. I first encountered them on a trip to Venice, and I must admit I initially eyed them with suspicion. In my head I could imagine odds and ends being swept off the pasta factory floor and put in packages to sell to tourists. But then as I saw more and more of these blends, I realized that they were almost always the product of artisan pasta makers. Obviously this meant they couldn’t be that bad. My curiosity was piqued.
It turns out these pasta shape mixes are meant to replicate those created by frugal Italian nonnas, who would artfully combine the small quantities of different shapes of pasta they had left in the bottom of various packages after cooking a week’s worth of meals. Pasta shapes were blended with great care and consideration for pairing with the selected condiment or sauce.
As pasta maker and owner of Pastificio dei Campi Giuseppe Di Martino says, the origin of the mixed pasta “follows the tradition of making great food of small things or the wisdom of not producing unnecessary waste.” The pasta pictured here, by the way, is Pastificio Dei Campi’s exquisite Mischiato Potente di Gragnano.
Of course, learning this bit of cultural history made my reservations about the packages of mixed pasta shapes disappear. I took a closer look and realized how beautiful the mixes are and how much fun they would be to eat.
Mixed Pasta with Tomato Sauce and Ricotta
500 grams (1.1 pounds) mixed short pasta
2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce
8 ounces ricotta, at room temperature
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Grated Parmegiano-Reggiano, for serving
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water according to the package directions. Meanwhile, bring the tomato sauce to a simmer in a large, heavy sauté pan. Drain the pasta when it is al dente. Immediately add the pasta to the sauce and toss to combine. Arrange on individual plates, divide the ricotta among them, and drizzle with the oil. Top with plenty of Parmegiano and serve immediately.