There is something about a great neighborhood restaurant that makes New York somehow shrink, if only for a moment, into an intimate, comfortable place that feels like home. Frankies is that place in my neighborhood. There is often a crowd at night, so lunch there is my favorite meal, sitting at a sturdy wooden table with some slices of crusty bread, a plate of perfect pasta. I once noticed a man who sat in a sunny corner one Saturday afternoon with a plate of meatballs, a whole bottle of white wine, and a book, and thought “perfect.”
Frankies can feel at once like a place to see-and-be-seen, but also a secret; humble details like a vase of flowering branches in the front window that changes with the season infuses the space with a quality both timeless and ephemeral. My favorite dish there is something I often make at home with the help of Frankies’ friendly cookbook.
Cavatelli with Sausage & Browned Sage Butter
1 pound hot Italian pork sausage (4-6 links depending on the size of the sausage)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
8-10 sage leaves (fewer if they are very large, more if they are very small)
Freshly ground white pepper
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
1. Put a large pot of water on to boil and salt it well.
2. Meanwhile, put the sausages into your widest sauté pan with 1/2 inch of water and turn the heat to medium. After 10 minutes, flip the sausages over and simmer them for another 5 minutes (replenish the water if it threatens to boil off). After 15 minutes, the sausages should be firm and cooked through. Remove the sausages to a cutting board (discard the water) and slice them into coins just shy of 1/2 inch. (You can do this an hour or even a day ahead of time if you like.)
3. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to the pan and turn the heat to medium-high. After a minute, add the sausage coins in an even layer and let them cook, untouched, unstirred, unfussed with, until they’re deeply browned on the first side. (If there is not enough room to brown all the sausage in one pan– which there will very probably not be– split it between two pans or brown it in two batches and use an additional tablespoon of butter.) Flip and brown them on the B side. The browning in integral to the ultimate depth of flavor of the finished dish– don’t stint on it. When the sausage is browned, remove it from the pan (a plate lined with paper towels is a nice place to hold it) and return the pan to the butter.
4. Keep the heat at a medium-high and add the sage, the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter, and a few twists of white pepper. Stir the butter and scrape at the browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. After a minute or two, it should not stop foaming and start to take on color. That’s when you should drop the ricotta cavatelli into the boiling water. Continue to cook the butter until its deeply browned and fragrant, about 4 minutes more, which should be just about how long the cavatelli takes to cook.
5. Do not drain the cavatelli too thoroughly. The water clinging to the pasta will give the sauce body. Add it to the butter sauce along with the sausage and stir.
6. Add the cheese, stir again, and portion the cavatelli among the serving plates. Scatter each with a couple of pinches of parsley. Serve immediately.
from The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual. Edited by Frank Falcinelli, Frank Castronovo, & Peter Meehan. New York: Artisan Books, 2010.