By: Patrick Crise
Pasta was the first dish I ever made all on my own, sometime in late elementary school. I’ve been making it ever since, and the biggest revelation I’ve made in that time is that you don’t need to use a pre-made, jarred sauce if you want a quick and easy dinner. This recipe in particular exemplifies all of the reasons why I love pasta: From start to finish, it takes no more than a half hour to make, it only requires easy to find and cheap ingredients, and most of all it’s simply delicious.
Fresh rosemary in a tomato sauce is a highly underrated flavor combination and this recipe allows it to shine in concert with a vibrant sauce with bursts of sausage and garlic. While I love a sauce that simmers for hours, this sauce really allows the simple, fresh ingredients that it possesses to shine. The sausage packs a massive flavor punch, while the combination of tomato paste and white wine makes this sauce taste infinitely more complex than its half-hour cook time would suggest. While the white wine may seem like an odd addition, it adds sweetness and acidity, while the alcohol allows the other flavors to become enhanced – it’s the same reason that vodka sauce is so delicious even though vodka has no flavor. If you can’t get it or don’t drink alcohol, no worries: a combination of water and white balsamic vinegar achieves a similar purpose of deglazing the pan and offering some sweetness and acidity. Of the hundreds of pastas I have made in my lifetime, this is definitely the most delicious relative to how quick and easy it is. While this recipe may seem basic, it allows each ingredient to shine while combining to make a harmonious dish.
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lb italian sausage, casing removed (sub for vegan sausage if you’re vegetarian)
1 yellow onion, small diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
4.5 oz or one can of tomato paste
28 oz can of tomato sauce, or blended whole peeled tomatoes
4 oz white wine or 4 oz water with a splash of white balsamic vinegar
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, minced fine
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 tsp of salt, rest to taste
Fresh ground black pepper
1 lb pasta of choice, I would recommend bucatini or orecchiette
Grated parmesan (to garnish)
Pre-heat a 12-inch pan over medium heat and add olive oil. You can do this in a pot, but it will take longer to get the level of evaporation and caramelization than compared to what you can get in a pan. Remove the sausage from the casing and press into an even layer in the pan. If you don’t hear it sizzling immediately, increase the heat slightly. After the first side is browned, begin to break up the sausage with a spatula and brown the other side. Add the onions and salt immediately, then stir to combine. Salting the onions immediately draws the water out, which allows them to caramelize more quickly. After 5 minutes, the onions should be starting to caramelize and the sausage should be cooked through. Add the garlic, rosemary, and red pepper flakes and stir to combine. Adding the rosemary, now as opposed to closer to the end, allows the flavor of the rosemary to perfume the oil and ensure that the floral, herbaceous flavor permeates every bite of the pasta. After one minute, add the tomato paste and spread into an even layer on the pan. After it begins to caramelize – 2 minutes or so – add the wine (or water and vinegar) and stir to deglaze the pan. Make sure that the fond (the brown part stuck to the pan) is removed, as it will flavor the sauce and has the potential to burn if it isn’t stirred into the sauce. Add the tomato sauce and stir. Lower the heat slightly until it lightly bubbles and add a lid or loosely tent with tin foil. Stir intermittently, keeping a close eye to ensure that the sauce doesn’t. Cook the pasta, making sure to add sufficient salt to the pasta cooking water. Stir intermittently. After 15 minutes or so, taste the sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve over the pasta and garnish with parmesan, fresh cracked black pepper, and a light drizzle of olive oil.
Another way I like to serve pasta sometimes is by finishing the pasta in the sauce and tossing it with butter, parmesan, and pasta cooking water to coat the pasta in the sauce ahead of time. Simply drain the pasta when it is slightly underdone and reserve a half cup or so of the pasta cooking water. Turn the heat off of the sauce and let it cool slightly. Add the pasta to the sauce along with 2 tbsp or so of butter, a half cup of parmesan cheese. Stir vigorously to ensure that an emulsion is formed. If it looks too thick add pasta water and if it looks too thin add parmesan to hone in on your ideal texture.