Tag Archives: pasta sauce

Sunday Suppers (Monday Edition): Sausage and Veal Rigatoni

22 Jun
Cream cheese, balsamic and nutmeg?  Why not?!

Cream cheese, balsamic and nutmeg? Why not?!

Well, our quick trip to Orlando was successful.  But, we are Very,Very Sleepy.  There was lots of driving and visiting and eating and Being Hot.  But, I promised you a Monday Edition Sunday Supper, so here it is.

This is another variation on my recent pasta craze.  I had a pound of local sausage and some ground veal.  And rigatoni.  Instant dinner.  Well, not instant, necessarily, but the whole deal only took about an hour and fifteen minutes.  You could probably cut down on the time a bit by using a pressure cooker or by not simmering the sauce as long as I did.

I didn’t really do anything much differently than I usually do, but the fat for the finishing this time was cream cheese.  I do love me some cream cheese.  I read in a cookbook that cream cheese is a Miracle Fabric.  I’m not sure about the fabric portion, but it is pretty miraculous.  It’s equally at home in sweet and in savory preparations.  Pour some pepper jelly over a block of cream cheese, and you’ve got an easy snack to take to the Superbowl Party.  Here’s a favorite:  pineapple jam (if you can find it), horseradish and loads of black pepper.  It sound kinda gross, but it is Awesome.

But, I digress.  Ahem, so cream cheese was my fat.  Because I like it.  There was a bit more stirring and mooshing about to get it to melt because I of course forgot to take it out of the fridge even though it was My Plan to do so.  Sorry.  You’ll remember, though.

So, what else did I do a little differently?  Oh!  I know–I used some freshly grated nutmeg in the sauce.  Why?  Because I like it.  Because it’s good with cream cheese.  Because it is often in sausage and I wanted to up its presence so it wouldn’t have to keep jumping up to be recognized.  I’m now imagining little nutmeg in back of big old fennel and black pepper, trying in vain to see the parade.  I told you I was sleepy.

I also used a very lot of balsamic vinegar.  Again, because I like it and it plays so well with tomatoes.  Plus, if you’re worried about Sodium and stuff, you can cut back some on the salt if you use enough vinegar.  Yay.

Sausage and Veal Rigatoni with Cream Cheese and Super Nutmeg Power

  • 1 pound sweet or hot bulk sausage
  • 1 pound ground beef, veal–whatever
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 fresh bay leaves (dry is fine, but I planted a bay tiny-tree a few weeks ago, so that’s what I used)
  • 2 TBSP (or so) of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • pepper flake, to taste
  • 8 oz. red wine
  • 2 TBSP tomato paste
  • 2 28 oz cans whole or diced tomatoes
  • about 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

To finish

  • 2-3 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup pasta water
  • 1/3 cup grated Parm

Of course, I started with a brick of frozen sausage.

Frozen block of sausage

Frozen block of sausage. Because I'm me.

That’s probably another part of why it took over an hour.  You will remember to thaw out your sausage, because you are Better Planners than I.  Anyway, I thawed/browned the sausage in the big saute pan.

Then, I tossed in the onion, garlic, pepper flake, salt and pepper and Italian Seasoning along with the rest of the meat.  There was a lot of food in the pan, so some steaming happened.

Sizzling along and smelling Quite Good.

Sizzling along and smelling Quite Good.

You could do this in batches to make sure you get some nice browning.  I didn’t, because I was trying to make up for some of that Frozen Sausage Time.

Skim off most of the sausage fat.  I left maybe two tablespoons, for body and flavor.  I added the tomato paste and stirred it around, letting it cook for a minute or two to start caramelizing.

This was my glass of wine.  I did not share it with The Beloved or with the pasta sauce.

This was my glass of wine. I did not share it with The Beloved or with the pasta sauce.

Add the wine and balsamic and simmer to reduce by about 3/4.  Add the tomatoes.  Simmer and simmer.  Taste and correct seasonings.  At this point, I added some more balsamic, a bit more salt and some pepper.

This is right after I added the tomatoes....

This is right after I added the tomatoes....

...and this is after about 20 minutes.  Looking pretty good.

...and this is after about 20 minutes. Looking pretty good.

Cook the pasta and finish it The Way I Showed You, using the cream cheese as the fat and stirring in some Parmesan at the very end.

I served this with a splash of extra virgin olive oil, some more black pepper and a bit more cheese.

This makes a Right Ton of Sauce, so I only used about half to finish a whole pound of rigatoni.  The rest, I used with some of that Yellow Box Barilla spaghetti and finished it with a splash of half and half.  Round Two was almost as tasty as Round One.  The cream cheese was a Very Good Idea.  Give it a try sometime.

Tomorrow is all about quiche and crust and creme fraiche, thanks to Loyal Readers.  The floor is still open for more questions.  Tomorrow, All will be Revealed.

Sunday Suppers (Monday Edition): Pasta with Sweet Sausage and Peppers

1 Jun
Things I like about being back in NC:  Neese's Sausage

Things I like about being back in NC: Neese's Sausage

Friends, you know how I am.  I like to put sauce with pasta and finish it in the pot with some pasta water and fat.  I can’t help myself, so I just go with it.  And because I like it so much, and The Beloved is always Just Fine with eating anything with meat in it, I go with it A Very Lot.  And such was the case a few days ago.  But this time, there is a Story and a Rhyme to my Reason; A Method to my Madness; A Rose for my Thorn:  Neese’s Sausage.

If you’re from North Carolina, South Carolina or Virginia, you’ve probably heard of Neese’s Sausage.  If you’re not from around these parts, you’re probably going to want to get your hands on some.  And now you can, because you can order from their website! Hooray!  (Um, supposedly.  Maybe you could email them.  Anyway, at least go there and see all the Piggy Goodness they are making over there). Neese’s has been making sausage in the Greensboro/High Point area since the early 1900’s.  I’m pretty sure they use every part of the pig–they make things called “souse” and “liver pudding” and “scrapple” and A Curious Product called “C-Loaf.”  I have no idea what C-Loaf is, but it is, according to their website, “a North Carolina favorite.”  Alrighty then; I guess I’ll have to find some.

As a kid, I was always drawn to Neese’s waxed paper wrapping.  It just seemed so much more authentic than sausage wrapped up in plastic.  Plus, their sausage is Very, Very Tasty.   Anyway, now that we’re back in NC, I can get Neese’s Sausage whenever I want.  Except in the middle of the night because the 24 hour grocery store is Far From Home.  So, The Beloved and I picked some up the other day.  We also went to the State Farmer’s Market (which is Awesome) and bought some organic bell peppers–green, red and yellow.  And I know they’re more or less the same thing, but still.  We’re growing our own peppers, but right now they are pre-peppers, so there you have it.

The Neese’s we bought is a sweetish-mild pork sausage, and I thought, “What could possibly be better with sausage than pepper and onions?”  The answer:  nothing.  So, that’s what I did.  I made some pasta sauce with roasted peppers, tomatoes, onions and the sausage.  It was Excellent, if I do say so myself.  The sausage/onion/pepper combo would have been just as good in a frittata, a pizza, or a quiche, and maybe I’ll do that next time.  But this time, here’s how it went:

Thank Goodness I Can Get Neese’s Again and Oh Look! Here Are Some Lovely Peppers Pasta

  • 1 pound Neese’s (if you’re lucky) sausage
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • garlic cloves (how much do you like garlic?)
  • salt and pepper
  • red pepper flake
  • basil
  • 2 28 oz. cans whole tomatoes
  • a splash of some-sort-of-alcohol (within reason.  Prolly you shouldn’t use Bartles & Jaymes)
  • 3 bell peppers, charred your favorite way, peeled and seeded
  • a bit of sugar
  • a bit of vinegar
  • a little butter
  • grated parm
  • cooked pasta, with about 1/3 cup of water reserved

Brown the sausage and get rid of a fair amount of the fat.  Set the sausage aside, and cook the onions and garlic in the sausage fat.  Oh, yeah.  Splash in a little olive oil.  Your heart with thank you.  Add in salt and pepper, to taste, along with pepper flake and some fresh or dried Italian herbs.

Once the onions are nice and translucent, add the tomatoes along with a splash of alcohol.  I used some red wine, but it doesn’t really matter.  You’re trying to coax out the alcohol-soluble flavors in those tomatoes, and it will be worth it.  That’s why vodka sauce tastes so good.  Cook for a couple of minutes to let most of the alcohol cook off.

Throw the sausage back in along with the peppers.  You can pre-chop them, but they’re so soft after charring that I just mashed them up really well with my wooden spoon once they were in the pot.  Plus, I like to play with my food.  Let simmer away for awhile, taste, and adjust seasonings.  At this point, you might need a bit of sugar, and I always add some vinegar to brighten the flavors, especially if I don’t want to go completely overboard with the salt.

Cook the pasta (I think I used whole wheat penne rigate) and then finish it in the pot with some of the sauce.  This time around, I used butter and parm, but you can use any sort of fat/cheese combo you want.

And there you have it.  Goodness from North Carolina, from me to you!

PS I just went to the State Farmers’ Market Website, and there is a Grammatical Error.  ( “When you want the best ITS got to be NC Agriculture” ) And you know how I get about those.  I’m seriously calling them tomorrow to Bring It To Their Attention.

PS I now realize there are THREE errors:  the apostrophe-less its, the no-comma-after best, and the no-period-at-the-end-of-the-sentence.  Sigh.  I hear Madison is nice this time of year…

Sunday Suppers: How to Finish Pasta

26 Apr
And what, pray tell, inspires The Beloved to clean his plate quickly?  I'll show you.

And what, pray tell, inspires The Beloved to clean his plate quickly? I'll show you.

And by that, I don’t mean “how to clean your plate.”  I mean how to finish off the cooking process so the pasta and the sauce meld into one unified dish, as opposed to being a naked plate of pasta with some sauce spooned on top.  I get Very Sad when I see pasta Disrespected in such a manner.  I think I’ve probably mentioned this technique before, but this time I took pictures for you.  You’re welcome.

The whole dish began when Steve, landlord and Realtor extraordinnaire told me that the “bush” by the corner of the deck was bay.  Well, heck, had I known that, I would’ve been making tomato sauce almost every day.  Alas.  So, I had a lot of catching up to do.

Anyway, please enjoy the following Pictorial Essay.  But first, the players in my sauce.  Feel free to improvise to your heart’s content.  Remember, this is a template, not Culinary Law:

Well, I’ll Be Damned; That’s Bay! Pasta Sauce

  • 2 fresh bay leaves (dried is fine)
  • 1 1/2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic. minced
  • olive oil
  • red pepper flake, to taste
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Italian seasoning (fresh or dried and smushed in your palm), to taste
  • 1 TBSP tomato paste
  • 1/3 bottle red wine (I used some less-than-stellar Sangiovese)
  • 1 pound hot Italian sausage (I had some organic, local stuff that we’d gotten at the Farmer’s Market.  You’ll see)
  • 2 large cans plum tomatoes
  • 2 tsp sugar (mine needed it; yours might not)
  • red wine vinegar to brighten flavors, to taste

To Finish:

  • About 1/2 cup pasta cooking water
  • about 3 TBSP heavy cream (you can also use butter or olive oil–or any tasty fat, really)
  • some freshly grated (or green can if that’s all you have) hard Italian cheese, such as Pecorino or Parmesan

So, what do you always do first when making some sort of Italian-inspired pasta sauce?  That’s right–you make your soffrito.  Sweat/sauté your aromatics.  In this case, I threw the onion, garlic, oil, salt, pepper, pepper flake and bay in the heated pan.

You could add peppers to this and/or celery.  It's more about the technique and the type of veggies you use than it is the specific list of ingredients.

You could add peppers to this and/or celery. It's more about the technique and the type of veggies you use than it is the specific list of ingredients.

After things start getting nicely softened and start to color, spoon in your tomato paste and stir it around a bit.  All this is done over medium-ish heat, by the way.  (Before you laugh at the next picture, remember that I am not a planner.  It was all I could do to stop after each step and take a picture.  Did you really expect me to remember to thaw the sausage, too)?

So, what I did was let it soften/melt/start cooking on both sides.  Then, I slit the casing and pulled all of the meat out.  Then, I washed my hands really, really well.

So, what I did was let it soften/melt/start cooking on both sides. Then, I slit the casing and pulled all of the meat out. Then, I washed my hands really, really well.

Next up, once the meat (if you decide to use meat) is all browned and lovely, skim off as much of the fat as you think prudent and then add the wine.

At this point, the meat was over in an unattractive shaggy heap on a plate.  Don't worry, I put it back in later.  If you don't start with a frozen schnecken of sausage, you won't have this problem.

At this point, the meat was over in an unattractive shaggy heap on a plate. Don't worry, I put it back in later. If you don't start with a frozen schnecken of sausage, you won't have this problem.

Next up, toss in the tomatoes.  If using fresh, less than amazing tomatoes, you might want to roast them for about 30 minutes first, to concentrate the flavor.  I like my sauce chunky, so I just mash up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.  If you like a smoother sauce, hit it with a stick blender, or don’t start with whole tomatoes.

See, the meat's right back where it belongs.  Looking pretty good, I think.

See, the meat's right back where it belongs. Looking pretty good, I think.

Simmer for as long as it takes to get to the consistency you want.  Do this over low heat so you don’t end up burning the sauce.  Oh, here’s where I also added the sugar and vinegar.  I also corrected the rest of the seasonings.

And there you have it.

And there you have it.

Here’s the point where many of you will just cook some noodles and then ladle the sauce on top.  I would’ve done the same had it not been my Good Fortune to see Frank Pellegrino from Rao’s in NYC on a cooking show about ten years ago or so.  He showed me (and everyone else watching, I guess) how to finish a sauce.  I listened and Followed Directions.  Dude was right, so pay attention to the next steps.

The idea is to create a starch-bound emulsion right in the pan.  It sounds like Crazy Magic, but it’s really quite easy.  For your emulsion, you need fat–in the form of olive oil, heavy cream, butter, duck fat, bacon grease or any other tasty fat.  You don’t need much–maybe just a tablespoon or so for an entire Vat of pasta and sauce, so don’t freak out.  Next, you need the water part of the emulsion.  You’ll get this from the water that is already in your sauce, plus some extra pasta water that you’ve dipped out of the pasta pot before draining.  The starch you need is in the cooking water, plus, you’ll get even more from the pasta in the pot.  You make the emulsion by stirring.  Easy.

Just dip in a measuring cup and grab about 1/2 cup of the water.

Just dip in a measuring cup and grab about 1/2 cup of the water.

See?  Here's my pasta water, cloudy with starch.

See? Here's my pasta water, cloudy with starch.

After draining the pasta, add the pasta water, several ladles of sauce and your fat.  I'm using cream and a little olive oil.

After draining the pasta, add the pasta water, several ladles of sauce and your fat. I'm using cream and a little olive oil.

See, it's ony a tablespoon or so of cream.  Right now, the pot contains pasta, reserved cooking water, cream, a little olive oil and sauce.

See, it's ony a tablespoon or so of cream. Right now, the pot contains pasta, reserved cooking water, cream, a little olive oil and sauce.

I don’t have a picture of the next part because I only have two hands.  Over high heat, stir everything together really well.  Things will be boiling and sputtering, but keep stirring–I use tongs–until the sauce has reduced to its original consistency (before you thinned it out with the pasta water).  The color will lighten somewhat, and your now-emulsified sauce will coat all the noodles.  This should only take a minute or two on high heat.  Make sure you start with al dente pasta, or it will be mushy when you’ve finished this part.  And that’s no fun.

At the end, stir in some grated cheese.  Then, it’s your choice to serve with more cheese sprinkled on top or not.

I added an extra ladle of sauce on top.  Notice how the sauce that was finished in the pot with the pasta is lighter in color and is coats the noodles.  No naked noodles here, folks.

I added an extra ladle of sauce on top. Notice how the sauce that was finished in the pot with the pasta is lighter in color and coats the noodles. No naked noodles here, folks.

And this one, I added some grated cheese on top.  I finished both plates with freshly ground black pepper and a wee drizzle of olive oil.  Hey, it's good for my heart, right?

And this one, I added some grated cheese on top. I finished both plates with freshly ground black pepper and a wee drizzle of olive oil. Hey, it's good for my heart, right?

See how thick the sauce is?  That’s because of the emulsion–just like how mayonnaise is thicker than either oil or egg yolk.  You know how sometimes water leaks out of your pasta and then you’ve got really runny, watery sauce under all the noodles?  Yeah, well those days are over.

Notes:

  1. This works with whole wheat and regular semolina pasta.  It works really well with pasta made from brown rice, since there’s a lot of starch in rice.
  2. I used green can cheese ’cause that’s all I had.  Give me a break, we’re moving soon.
  3. You can add mushrooms to this and almost any kind of vegetable–your ingredient list doesn’t have to look like mine.
  4. Here’s your template:

–sweat/sauté aromatics with flavorings/spices/dried herbs
–add tomato paste (or not)
–brown meat (and/or mushrooms) with the soffrito (if you’re using meat); skim fat
–add wine/stock to deglaze pan
–add tomatoes (and other veggies) and simmer to reduce/thicken
–add fresh herbs and correct all seasonings.
–finish over high heat by adding fat and pasta water to pasta and sauce
–gild the lily with some grated cheese

And there you have it.

Welcome to the First Installment of “Sunday Suppers”

12 Jan

This is ziti with the basic Dead-of Winter sauce dolled up with a pound each of Italian sausage, ground beef and some frozen spinach.  I added just a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, too. Just for fun, I baked the whole thing like a casserole.

Welcome to Sunday Suppers!

Sometimes it might be called “Saturday Suppers,” it just depends on when it happens.  It will happen on either a Saturday or a Sunday, mainly because I enjoy alliteration, and Monday Suppers just sounds dumb.  So, what’s all this supper business anyway?  Well, as shocking as this may sound, one cannot live by dessert alone.  I know; I know–hard to believe.  I was thinking last evening that, while folks might struggle with figuring out what to serve for dessert, how to mix a cake or how to keep their cookies from spreading every once in awhile, they probably struggle with “What’s for dinner?” a lot more frequently.  So, as a person who enjoys all sorts of food, once a week, I think I’ll whip off the cute pink pastry chef bandanna and replace it with a toque and help you answer that question.

My thoughts on cooking are roughly the same as they are on baking.  Actually, I allow myself much more room to experiment on the savory side of the house, where chemistry and formulas aren’t nearly as prevalent as they are in the bake shop.  Learn the techniques and methods, understand flavor profiles, add your spin to every dish and have fun in the kitchen.

I probably am not going to be giving many measurements here.  If I do, you’ll get a range.  Since everyone has different tastes, who am I to specify the amount of any ingredient down to the 1/4 teaspoon?

So now, without further ado, I give you the first installment of Sunday Suppers:

Dead-of-Winter Pasta Sauce

In the winter, instead of being able to pluck ripe, juicy tomatoes off the vine, we have to pluck cans off the shelf.  There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just the way it is.

  • 2-4 TBSP olive oil–I use extra virgin here because I can’t help myself.  You could use a light olive oil or a neutral vegetable oil, if you prefer
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • 1-2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning–I still have oregano and of course, the Valiant Rosemary, out in the old herb garden, thumbing their noses at the cold.  If you do, too, use them.
  • red pepper flake, to taste
  • 1-2 TBSP tomato paste
  • wee squeeze of honey–maybe a teaspoon or 2.
  • a few splashes of wine, if you’re feeling fancy.  The wine is optional.
  • kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 large cans tomatoes–diced, or whole is fine.  If you have one of each, use them both.  If  all you have is puree, use it, but just know that your sauce won’t have much texture.  I’ve used a can of puree and a can of whole that I kind of smushed with the back of a spoon.  If you only have the smaller cans, use 3-4 of them.  If you only have 1 big can, cut down on the other ingredients a bit and make less.  No need to get frantic.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil, to finish

Heat your pan over medium heat until it’s nice and hot.  This takes about 4 minutes on my stove.  I set the timer.

Add the oil and wait for it to shimmy a bit–another 30 seconds to a minute, depending on your stove and how much oil you’re using.

Toss in the onions and then the garlic.  Add a heavy pinch of salt and pepper, as well as the red pepper flake and dried herbs.  Hold the dried herbs in the palm of one hand and smush them with the thumb of your other hand.  Be firm.  You’re trying to release as much of their oils as you can.  Test me and see if I’m right:  smell the herbs, pre-rub, then smell them again, post-rub.  You’ll be able to tell a difference.

Stir all of this around until the onions are translucent.  You can let them get a little golden, but that’s it.  Keep the heat adjusted so you hear a contented sizzle as opposed to an angry sputtering.  When your onions are lovely, add the tomato paste and honey and stir that around.  The sugars in the tomato paste and honey will start to caramelize and add a nice depth of flavor to your sauce.  If you don’t have any tomato paste, it’s really no big deal–your sauce will still be tasty without it.  Ditto with the honey, although you might think about adding a teaspoon or so of sugar later in the cooking process.

If you’re feeling fancy, you can add a few splashes of wine at this point.  If not, just keep going.  If you do add the wine, let it cook and reduce until your onions are almost dry again.

Add the cans of tomato and heat through.  Taste; you will probably need to add more salt and pepper.  Let this whole thing simmer for about 20 minutes or so, add a splash of olive oil, and it’s good to go.  It will taste even better if you cool it, refrigerate it and then reheat it.  It’s not necessary, though.  The leftovers will taste great the next day, anyway.

How To Finish Your Pasta Like A Pro

  1. Cook pasta in plenty of well-salted water.  Do not add oil, or the pasta will just be slippery and not absorb your sauce.
  2. Before draining, dip out about 1/3-1/2 cup of cooking water.  Set that aside, then drain your pasta.
  3. Put all the pasta back in the pan.  And put the pan back over high heat.
  4. Add as much sauce as you like to the pasta (if you like drier pasta, add less.  If you like it “juicy,” add more), the cooking water, some unsalted butter or a splash of heavy cream, a drizzle of olive oil and a few gratings of parmesan cheese (the canned kind is just fine, if that’s all you have).  Stir this around–it will boil and sputter and hiss–until the sauce has reduced to a lovely consistency.
  5. Plate it up, drizzle on some olive oil (or not) and finish with a wee pinch of finishing salt, a grind or two of black pepper, and a little grated cheese.

Notes:

  • The chunkier your sauce is, the heartier your pasta can be.
  • Cook your pasta so it still is a little firm in the center–al dente.  You’ll be cooking it some more once the sauce is in, and overcooked pasta is a mushy mess.
  • Adding a little cooking water plus the extra fat (cream/butter/oil) at the end and stirring gives you a bit of an emulsion.  The sauce will be silky and wonderful.
  • There is nothing sadder than a plate of naked noodles with some red sauce dropped on top.  Let all your pasta soak up the flavor.

Oh, yeah, about that picture up there.  It’s the basic Dead-of-Winter Pasta Sauce with a pound each of Italian sausage and ground beef.  I added a bunch of frozen spinach, a pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg, and finished it with a splash of cream and olive oil.  Just for fun, I threw the whole thing in a casserole dish and baked it for half an hour.  It was delightful.

And that concludes this Premier Edition of Sunday Suppers.  If this just brings up more questions than it answers, let me know in the comments section.

%d bloggers like this: