The combination of flavors here plays up the nutty flavor of whole-grain penne. Prep and Cook Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. Notes: Ricotta salata (also called "hard ricotta") is a firm white Italian cheese made by salting, pressing, and drying sheep's-milk ricotta. In flavor, it's like a very mild, nutty, less tangy feta, which makes it a natural addition to pastas and salads (it can also be grated). Look for ricotta salata in specialty stores, Italian markets, or any supermarket with a good cheese department.
7 medium onions (about 4 lbs.), peeled and thinly sliced
5 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon sugar
About 2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups walnut halves
10 ounce whole-grain penne or fusilli pasta
1 pound ricotta salata, crumbled (see Notes)
2/3 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
How to Make It
In a large frying pan over high heat, cook onions in 3 tbsp. olive oil with sugar and 2 tsp. salt, stirring and turning often, until onions begin to release their juices and turn golden, 10 to 13 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions turn a caramel color and become quite sweet, 35 to 40 minutes more. If onions begin to stick to the pan or char during cooking, reduce heat.
Meanwhile, in a small frying pan (not nonstick) over medium-low heat, toast walnuts, stirring frequently, until fragrant and golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Pour walnuts into a zip-lock plastic bag and lightly crush with a rolling pin. Set aside.
When onions are nearly done, cook pasta in boiling salted water until tender to the bite, 9 to 12 minutes or according to package instructions. Drain pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup cooking water.
Toss caramelized onions with pasta, walnuts, ricotta salata, parsley, reserved cooking water, lemon juice, pepper, and remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil. Season to taste with salt. Serve hot.