Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Recipe: Hot Sausage and Plum Tomato Pasta

I've had a rare few days off—no classes, no work, and just a few errands to run—which has left me three full evenings to cook to my heart's content. Sunday night's chicken and spaghetti squash meal was fun and different—the kind of meal that called for some solid recipes to build off of—but this past night's meal was one of those that sort of came from a recipe, but mostly just consisted of me tossing random things in a pan and seasoning them willy-nilly with a variety of dried herbs to achieve what tasted like a well-thought out and recipe-driven meal (i.e. it was a delicious success): a pasta dish with hot Italian sausage, canned plum tomatoes and their juice, and splashes of dry red wine and half-and-half for a little depth of flavor. My dad is a fan of hearty tomato sauce-based pastas and he loves a little heat in his dinner dishes—my mother, not so much, but she's game to try anything I make, as long as I forewarn her about the spice level or the presence of bell peppers (she absolutely hates them). Because you cook the sausage in the pan before adding tomatoes and seasonings to that same pan, the spicy juices from the cooked sausage blend with the tomato juice, creating a subtle heat that coats your entire mouth from the very first bite. A generous sprinkling of dried basil, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper add a deeper flavor to the dish, while a half cup of half-and-half adds a very light creaminess to the sauce formed from the cooked tomatoes and sausage. It's an incredibly simple, easy dish—in fact, some of my past recipes featured on the blog are vaguely reminiscent of this recipe (the meat+sauce+pasta combo. is definitely a winner)—and it's the kind of warm, hearty dish that really fills you up on a cold day.

Serves: 4-6
Prep. time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

  • 8-10 oz. (a little over half a box) medium pasta shells
  • 1 pkg. (about 5 links) hot Italian sausage, casings removed, meat pulled/crumbled into bite-sized pieces
  • 1-2 tbsp. butter or margarine
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil (or enough to evenly coat the bottom of a pan)
  • 1 & 1/2, 28 oz. cans whole, peeled plum tomatoes, with their juice; coarsely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine (I use cooking wine), or to taste
  • Dried basil, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper, to taste
  • Italian cheese, if desired

In a large pot, bring lightly salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until done (about 11-13 minutes). Drain, return to the pot, and put the lid on to keep it warm. In the meantime, heat the butter and olive oil in a large pan (I used a deep pan, similar to a wok, but a large skillet/pan would work or even a large, low pot). Add the crumbled sausage pieces to the pan and cook until they are browned and cooked through. Add the garlic, tomatoes, and red wine, cooking until the mixture is heated through and a thin sauce forms. Add the half-and-half and stir to blend, then continue to cook. Add desired dried herbs and seasonings and cook until the mixture is fragrant and well-mixed (total cooking time is about 15-20 minutes). Toss the tomato and sausage mixture with the pasta and serve, topped with Italian cheese and herbs if desired. For those with mouths sensitive to heat, I recommend serving a few slices of good Italian bread on the side to help soak up that heat. We sliced up some fresh ciabatta bread and served it with an herb pesto spread.

This dish is incredibly quick and easy to pull together and it's so delicious! The spice from the sausage blends with the tomatoes and their juice to add a kick of heat to the whole mixture, but the half-and-half smooths out the heat and adds a delicate and very subtle creaminess to the sauce. A mixture of dried herbs and Italian cheese add a punch of flavor to the dish and the pasta shells are the perfect medium to hold it all together.

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