Saturday, October 11, 2014

Leftover Makeover - Strozzapreti With Fast Sausage Ragu

I don't know about your house but around here, two frozen Italian Sausage links do not a dinner make. When I'm faced with odd amounts of ingredients leftover from other recipes (1 chicken leg, anyone?), I try and challenge myself not to let them go to waste.  I've found using them as a springboard for new meal ideas is a great strategy. That's why when pasta night rolled around (we need our fix about once a week), I took to the web to find a Sausage Ragu recipe worth trying. Not surprisingly, I landed on a familiar place for inspiration, Lidia Bastianich's  website. 

Our fast-cooking Sausage Ragu over Strozzapreti Pasta, Photo: NK 

Our light adaptation of Lidia's Rigatoni with Sausage Tomato Sauce would provide us a great opportunity to use some of the pantry and freezer items we had on hand (it's never a bad idea to have cans of whole tomatoes at the ready for sauce making). As with many ragu recipes, Lidia's is rather long-cooking. As such, we've tweaked the preparation considerably to make this more along the lines of a 45 minute cook time (down from an hour and a half). What does this mean for you? Well, for one, you can make this on a weeknight when you've got a little time to spare. Do certainly try the longer technique when you have time, but we managed to achieve fairly well-developed flavor and richness with minimal effort, and that's just how we like to roll on work days. Purchasing fresh herbs like Basil (we also added minced fresh Parsley to mix) and using good quality canned Tomatoes and Italian Sausage is the key to achieving a very flavorful sauce fast. And, if you don't happen to have a bottle of wine open, you now have an excuse! Weekday be damned! 

Now for pasta talk; we used a fun but hard to find pasta shape called Strozzapreti. It looks like a longer version of Cavatelli and interestingly, the name means Priest Stranglers… eek! Of course, any short, spiral pasta would be a worth vehicle for this satisfying sauce. Buon Appetito and enjoy! 

Strozzapreti With Fast Sausage Ragu
Adapted from Lidia Bastianich
Serves 4-5 as an entree
3/4 Pound Strozzapreti or other short or spiral pasta
1/2 Pound Sweet Italian Sausage - about 2 links
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil + more for drizzling
1/2 Cup White or Red Wine, whatever's on hand, divided
1 large Garlic Clove, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper or to taste
1 Cup Yellow Onion or other Sweet White Onion, diced
7 Basil Leaves, cut into ribbons then minced + sprigs for garnish
3 Cups (24 ounces) Canned Whole San Marzano or Plum Tomatos, crushed by hand or gently with a potato masher
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 Cup Italian Parsley, minced
1/2 Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, freshly grated

1. Remove the Sausage casings and discard. Crumble the Sausage meat into a medium bowl. Now pour half of the wine over (1/4 cup) and stir to be sure the meat is evenly moistened. 

2. In a large skillet over medium heat, drizzle the Olive Oil. Add the Onions and cook until they start to soften, roughly 5 minutes. Now add the Garlic and Crushed Red Pepper Flake, stirring well. When everything is sizzling, pour in the Sausage Meat, breaking up any chunks. Stir well. 

Photo: NK
3. To the skillet, add the remaining 1/4 cup of Wine and turn up the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, as the wine cooks down and the Sausage begins to brown, approximately 10 minutes. 

4. At this point, you'll want to start preparing your pasta in boiling salted water according to the package directions. Drain it and set it aside. You can also make it in advance of the sauce if easier, just save some pasta water or a bit of oil to help unstick it if necessary.

5. Once Sausage has browned, pour in the tomatoes and all their juices and stir well with the other ingredients in the skillet. Add the Salt and Basil ribbons and turn up the flame to bring the sauce to a bubble. Allow it to warm about 5 minutes, stirring, until fully heated through. (Note: here is where if you have more time, you can certainly simmer this sauce longer. You'd simply need to add a half cup of water, stir, and then partially cover the pot to vent. Lower the flame to keep the sauce at a gentle bubble and cook about an hour.)

Photo: NK
6. Turn off the flame and scatter the Parsley throughout the sauce. Add the drained Pasta to the skillet and toss to incorporate until sauce is well distributed. Finally, add about half of the grated cheese to the skillet and toss until incorporated. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

7. To serve, plate the pasta and sauce and drizzle each serving with a little Olive Oil. Next, optionally garnish each bowl with a few Basil Leaves. Pass the remaining grated cheese around the table. 


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