Saucy Vegetable & Sausage Pasta
Italian sausage is one of my secrets for making an impressive weeknight meal. Good Italian sausage (chicken, pork, or turkey) has some of my favorite flavor combinations – fennel, black pepper, sage, rosemary, and more. The sausage itself is so flavorful that you don’t need to do much else to the rest of the dish. When I first started cooking with Italian sausage – usually turkey for weeknights, to keep it a little lighter – I would brown it and cook it in a pasta with lots of greens, like Swiss chard or beet greens (yes, beet greens – don’t throw that away! It’s so damn good). A few years ago, we went to dinner at my friend Tom and Megan’s (hi, guys!) and they made us Lidia Bastianich’s sausage and peppers, thus broadening my Italian sausage horizons. All I remember from that meal is that we had a great time, drank a lot of wine, and I ate so more than one sausage with my peppers, because it was delicious.
I didn’t grow up eating Italian food and I’m not a fan of most Italian-American food; it’s too sweet and too tomato-y for my palette. But Lidia’s show on PBS changed my perception of Italian cooking. My parents were switching homes a few years ago and in their “in between” apartment, they hadn’t bothered to get cable. So, anytime I visited home and wanted to watch TV, PBS was the only good option. And every weekend, PBS had a few episodes of Lidia’s Italy. I loved what she was doing for the same reasons I love my mom’s cooking – everything is fresh and as much as possible, everything is made from scratch.
This recipe plays on some of the flavors our friends introduced us to at dinner. The flavorful sausage means the rest of the dish can stand to be very simple – just enough spice from red pepper flakes, balanced with some tangy tomatoes, and the sweetness of the peppers. The other great thing about this recipe is that it cooks so quickly! These days, with the weather getting better, I want to eat well but not cook for long periods of time – this recipe fits the bill. You can also scale this up for a larger group and impress your dinner party guests.
If you don’t have easy access to Italian sausage, flavor your minced meat of choice as follows – for every 1 lb of meat, season with 1 tsp ground fennel and cracked black pepper, and 1 tbsp finely chopped sage and/or rosemary.
4 oz dry pasta
2 Italian turkey or pork sausage links (I used turkey)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 anchovies (optional)
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
½ red or Vidalia onion, cut into bite-sized chunks and separated
2 cups red, yellow, or orange bell peppers chopped into bite-sized chunks
6-8 baby bella mushrooms, cut into chunks
2 cups baby greens, like spinach, kale, arugula, or swiss chard
1 cup crushed canned tomatoes
½ cup dry white wine
½ tsp red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
2 oz parmesan cheese, shredded
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt generously and cook pasta according to the instructions minus one minute.
Chop the onions, garlic, peppers and mushrooms and set aside.
Heat up a large skillet on medium high heat and add 1 tbsp olive oil. Once the oil is shimmering, remove the sausage from the casing and add to the pan. Flatten with the back of a spoon so that it’s no thicker than half an inch. Brown undisturbed for 4 mins. Then flip over and brown the other side for another 3-4 mins. Then break it up with your spoon into bite-sized pieces. (Tip: Leave the sausage in large chunks when you first add it to the pan – it will make flipping and getting an even browning easier).
Add the other 1 tbsp olive oil to the pan and add the onions, garlic, peppers, and anchovies. Lower the heat to medium, toss well, cover with a lid, and let cook for 5 mins. Then add the red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Once the mixture starts sticking to the pan, pour in the wine into the pan. Release any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan into the mixture.
Now add the crushed tomatoes, mix well, and cover with a lid. Cook for 10-12 mins or until the vegetables are softened.
Turn off the heat and add the greens – toss until they have wilted. Lastly, add the cooked pasta and toss once more.
Serve with freshly shaved parmesan!