There are endless possibilities when it comes to Italian pastas. This pasta recipe is both uncomplicated and worth eating with bread to sop up the extra sauce and a good red wine.
Making a delicious pasta starts with selecting the shape of the noodle. Choosing has a lot to do with the sauce you are preparing and your mood. Spaghetti is a classic choice. Penne Rigate will catch and hold onto the sauce in its ridges and has a hefty satisfying bite. Orecchiette, pictured above, can capture little bits of the sauce inside the ear shaped cups.
A red sauce wouldn’t be red without tomato, usually, from a larger 28 oz. can, crushed, or whole and then crushed by hand. Other options, like diced tomatoes, are often chemically treated to hold their shape and will not dissolve easily in the way you need for a pasta sauce. Whatever you use, some brands are better than others and even the best brands can use confusing packaging. San Marzano tomatoes are the most commonly misleading claim. At best they are sold as San Marzano “style” tomatoes, that is, the varietal is originally from San Marzano but there is no claim to be growing the tomatoes in the tiny San Marzano region.
Making the pasta sauce, however, starts with one, simple and crucial, ingredient—olive oil. Add a few tablespoons to a saute pan and, as the pan heats up, break up the sausage into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon or, even better, a potato masher. Once the sausage is brown and fragrant add in some red pepper flakes, to taste, and sliced garlic. Before your garlic burns, add chopped thyme and pour the crushed tomatoes into the pan. You will want to add some water as well and you can use whatever was holding the tomato—the water will help get any tomato left behind in the can or bowl.
1-2 Tbs. Extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, sliced
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
1/2 28 oz. can of crushed, or whole tomatoes crushed by hand
2 tsp. fresh thyme
2-3 links Italian sausage
12 oz. dried pasta
Simmer the sauce while you boil water in a separate pot. If the sauce becomes dry you can simply add a little water. After the sauce has been cooking for a while, at least 10 minutes, you should taste and add salt if needed. Depending on how the sauce tastes after that you may wish to give it a boost of acidity or umami, adding a little may go a long way.
Lemon juice, just a squeeze
Soy sauce, just a dash
Fish sauce, just a dash
Once your pasta water is boiling you should add a good tablespoon or so of salt. Dried Italian pastas have no salt in them so cooking in properly salted water is quite important. Immediately after, add your pasta to the pot and stir more vigorously for a minute or two to help keep the pasta pieces from sticking to one another. Cook according to the package instructions and begin checking 1 minute before the lower cook time. Once the pasta is firm but not overly raw, al dente to the Italian sensibility, use a spider or fine mesh strainer to transfer the pasta into your sauce. You should turn up the heat on your sauce and cook the pasta together with the sauce for a minute or so, adding water from the pot you cooked the pasta in.
On the plate, grated Parmesan cheese makes a perfect salty-umami topping.