Eilene’s friends are coming over again. Fortunately, she gave me a two hour notice this time. What do I have on hand to feed them—some leftover Italian sausage, pasta sauce and rotini.
This meal is for four hungry twenty-somethings. By itself, pasta and sauce is not enough to make a meal. However, I know from past meals that some of these kids do not like salads. I decided to work as many vegetables into the sauce as I could.
I usually do not use spaghetti, because it tends to clump together and does not really hold onto the sauce—you end up with puddles of sauce and barely coated strands of pasta. Rotini have deep groves that really hold onto the sauce and their spiral shape prevents the individual pieces from sticking together. I usually use only ¾ of a box (1 lb.) for a meal, but as I thought about my audience I dumped the entire box in.
After Dinner Note: That turned out to be a good choice. The picture above was all that was left after dinner.
Karl’s Weeknight Pasta
½ lb. mild Italian sausage
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, large dice
2 stalks celery, chopped
½ red bell pepper, large dice
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (14.5 oz.) fire roasted diced tomatoes
½ Tbs. oregano, dried
½ Tbs. basil, dried
1 bottle (24 oz.) tomato and basil pasta sauce
¼ cup sherry
1 lb. rotini pasta
½ Tbs. Kosher salt
½ cup flat-leafed parsley
¼ cup Parmesan, shredded
1. Set a large pot of water on the stove a turn it on high.
Note: By the time you have finished the sauce, the water will be boiling and ready to cook the pasta.
2. Press the sausage into a single large patty.
3. Heat the oil in a medium pot and brown the sausage well on both sides.
Tip: It is not important, at this point, for the meat to be cooked all the way through—you will be cooking it some more later on.
Note: This is an America’s Test Kitchen trick to get the flavor of the Maillard reaction without turning your meat into dried out little rocks.
4. Remove the sausage patty to a plate and deglaze the pot with a splash of water or sherry.
5. Without cleaning the pot, add the onions and sauté them until they are starting to show some color, about 6-8 minutes.
6. Add the celery and continue sautéing for another 4-5 minutes.
7. Add the bell peppers and garlic and sauté until the garlic is fragrant, about one more minute.
8. Sprinkle the herbs over the vegetables and then stir in the tomatoes—with all of their juices.
Tip: I usually find that commercial pasta sauces are a bit under seasoned. A few more herbs never hurt.
Note: Never waste the flavor of the packing juices of things like tomatoes or beans. As I though about how much past I was making—and how hungry Eilene’s friends usually are I thought that one bottle of pasta sauce would not be enough. The can of tomatoes both added another vegetable and stretched the amount of sauce to fill the groves of the rotini.
9. Stir in the pasta sauce.
10. Rinse the sauce bottle with the sherry and add it to the pot.
11. Break the sausage patty into small bites and add it to the sauce.
Tip: Rinse any sausage grease off of the plate—and into the pot—with a splash of water or sherry.
12. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce until the pasta is ready.
13. Add the pasta and salt to the boiling pot of water.
Tip: Stir the pasta frequently during the first few minutes, to make sure that the pasta does not settle to the bottom of the pot and stick.
14. Drain the pasta—by pouring it into a colander—and return it to the pot.
Note: Much of the excess salt in the pasta water goes down the drain.
15. Pour all of the sauce over the pasta and toss to coat and distribute the sauce.
16. Add the parsley and toss the pasta once more.
17. Serve immediately with shredded Parmesan on the side.