Whenever I crave something Italian I’m usually craving this pasta dish. It is one of those classics that I wanted to learn how to make, rather than relying on some pasta sauce out of a jar. The results are better by far, and I’d like to share with everyone my not so hard rules for making this dish. Unlike baking, where even a slight misstep can make you wonder how anyone ever figured out these recipes in the first place, this is less about specific measurements and more about general proportions with plenty of room for self innovation.
1/2 lb. pasta (linguine is a great option)
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/2 tsp. Red Pepper flakes (more if you like)
1/2 14.5 oz. can of crushed, whole (peeled), or diced tomatoes (crush any whole tomatoes yourself)
2 tsp. chopped herbs (rosemary/thyme/dried oregano)
2-3 spicy Italian sausages (remove the casings)
Salt and Pepper
Lemon juice (optional, for acidity as needed)
To start let’s talk about pasta. Dry pasta has to be, traditionally, enjoyed al-dente. This is where the pasta still has bite to it, having not quite been cooked through. Most pasta sold in stores has a helpful cook time for al-dente on the box, which proves to be entirely too long more often than not. The reason to cook this pasta highly al-dente, as I will suggest you do, is because the noodles will cook further in the sauce we make. In that way the noodles absorb the sauce and, as they cook in the sauce, therefore will not become soft and mushy; they should retain their al-dente texture. The pasta is actually the last thing you want to make, so fill a large pot with water, larger tends to be better, turn on the heat and let it slowly come to a boil while we make the sauce.
Any good red sauce starts with garlic and onion. How much onion depends in large part on how much pasta you are making. For two people, and half a pound of pasta, half a medium sized yellow onion will be about right. In the same way, roughly 2 cloves of garlic per half pound of pasta is a good idea. More or less garlic is certainly possible depending on your preferences.
Place a sauté pan with deep sides or a nice sized sauce pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. There should be enough oil to coat the onion. Once the pan is hot add in the red pepper flakes and the garlic and sauté until the garlic begins to give off an aroma (only about 20 or 30 seconds). Add in the onion and cook until the onion becomes slightly translucent like in the above photo. Move the onion and garlic off to the side and brown the sausage. You will need to break the sausage into bite sized chunks as it cooks. Once it is no longer pink/red on the outside, pour in the tomatoes and add the herbs. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes.To your boiling water add a handful of salt and then the pasta. Cook for several minutes less than suggested by the box. (If the box says 12, try 8 or 9 minutes first). You can always cook the pasta for longer if it is not yet ready. The pasta is ready when you eat a piece and it is slightly more firm than you like to eat. As the pasta is cooking finish the sauce by first tasting it and adding salt and pepper to taste. If the tomatoes lack flavor adding in lemon juice is a great way to compensate by increasing the acidity of the sauce. If the sauce is looking dry reserve some of the water the pasta is cooking in. When the pasta is done cooking, strain and combine with the sauce and add some reserved pasta water if it looks too dry.
Serve immediately with some Parmesan cheese grated on top!