Oh my god, did we ever eat good last night!
First there was a recipe for sicilian rigatoni and sausage that took so long to simmer and cook, it got me to flipping through the cookbook for a dessert recipe to fill the time. More on that dessert in a later post.
Both recipes came from a new-old favorite cookbook I've been making tons of things from these days -- Queen of the Kitchen Cookbook by illustrator Mary Engelbreit. Everything I've tried has been so good that I had to flip to the back of the book to see if Mary herself was whipping up these concoctions.
Nope. But I can see why the recipes are good stuff -- the cooks are Lori Longbotham, a former food editor at Gourmet magazine, and Miriam Rubin, whose name sounds very familiar but I can't put my finger on why.
But back to that pasta. First, you put some hot italian sausages in a skillet, prick them with a fork, and let them sizzle slowly for 25 minutes or so till they're nicely browned.
The sight of a nicely browned sausage makes me even happier than slightly crispy, thick slices of bacon.
In the same skillet (don't be shy -- use those sausage drippings), you toss in a chopped bulb of fresh fennel, some shallots, a stalk of celery, and a couple of cloves of garlic. Then some tomatoes and fresh basil and parsley. Let it simmer for 45 minutes -- this doesn't go together quick, but it is easy and the results are wonderful. When I first glanced at the recipe, it looked like it would be speedy but oh no, good things take awhile sometimes. And hey, like I said, I got an unexpected and very tasty dessert out of the deal. In my kitchen, cooking boredom often leads to a baking solution for said boredom.
I love the way rigatoni noodles plump up big and fat when they're finished boiling. Here's the sauce after running it through a food processor:
My husband took one look at the simmering ingredients and said, "I don't think I'm gonna like that," (he hates tomatoes) and then he tried to sneak out of the kitchen carrying the plate of sausages behind his back. The dog was hoping he'd make it to the living room but I'm on to that man's tricks.
And as is so often the case, he was wrong because he polished off half a skillet of this pasta. That sauce was excellent and so fresh tasting. You can sprinkle it with the feathery fennel fronds. And speaking of leafy things, use a celery stalk with the leaves still attached if you can find such a thing -- it's getting harder and harder to find celery with the leaves still on! What's up with that? There's five different brands of celery at my grocery stores and they're all chopped off well below the leafy mark.
When it's ready to serve, sprinkle it with more cheese and garnish with the fennel fronds and sprigs of basil. I think this would be so pretty to serve to guests -- imagine bringing it to the table in a big old pasta bowl. You'd be sure to get some oo's and ah's.
Here's my version of the recipe:
Sicilian Rigatoni and Sausage
Serves 4 to 6
1/2 pound hot italian sausage (about three links)
2 T olive oil
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and finely chopped, feathery tops chopped and reserved
2 medium shallots or 1 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk with leaves, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced
5 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/4 c fresh basil, chopped, plus a few small sprigs for garnish
1/4 c fresh parsely, chopped
2 T tomato paste, divided
1/2 c chicken broth
1/4 heavy cream
Salt and pepper
1/2 pound rigatoni or other large tube-shaped pasta
3/4 c grated parmesan cheese, plus additional for sprinkling on top
Prick each sausage several times with a fork. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Cook the sausage, turning often, for about 25 minutes, or until well browned and cooked through. Remove to a plate.
Add remaining tablespoon of oil to the same skillet and add the fennel, onion or shallots, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently over medium-low heat for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are very soft and lightly browned.
Add the tomatoes, basil, parsley and one tablespoon of tomato paste. Season with salt and peper to taste and cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes, adding a little broth if the sauce gets too thick.
Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.
Press the sauce through a food mill set over a large saucepan, or in the alternative, blend it in a food processor or blender to your desired smoothness (I like mine a little chunky), then return it to the skillet (I like the idea of using one pan rather than dirtying up another one). Cut sausage into 1/4-inch slices and add to the sauce. Stir in the cream, the other tablespoon of tomato paste, and the rest of the broth if you still have some left. Cook over medium heat, stirring for 5 minutes, or until sauce is heated through.
Cook pasta until al dente. Drain. Toss the pasta and parmesan with the sauce in the skillet, or in a large serving bowl. Sprinkle with fennel fronds and garnish with basil sprigs. Serve alongside additional parmesan.