I was watching this awful reality show the other night.
And I couldn’t pry myself away.
You see, beyond the glitz and glamor there was an important message: family tradition.
A dramatic scene unfolded in this gaudy, gold accented dining room where the quintessential Italian grandfather sat perched at the head of the table. He was speaking to his family about preserving family traditions. With arms flailing and emotions flying, I got his message loud and clear: it is up to us young people to preserve the family table. He went on and on about how everyone is too busy to cook in today’s generation, and this is how family recipes get lost in the sauce (literally).
My mind drifted to our family recipes… and then this dish.
I was at my aunt’s house in Connecticut last weekend, and she gave me some of my grandmother’s old serving platters.
“Do you think you could use this for your blog?” She asked.
Of course I could. What better way to preserve our family table by showcasing the meals I grew up with, right on the very platter it was served. I loved the idea. Now, if I want to get technical I would’ve made my grandmother’s Sicilian-style pasta with meatballs. It was a dish we always looked forward to when we visited her house on Sunday’s in Brooklyn. Even as a small kid, I remember her signature sweet sauce…
But I’ll be honest with you, this was a spontaneous meal and I didn’t have all of the ingredients for meatballs. Just sausage.
So, I’ll combine the old and new to start my own family traditions.
Isn’t that what it’s all about?
To make this dish is very simple; it all begins with good quality, sweet Italian sausage. You can choose lean pork, chicken, or turkey. For the base, the meat is gently browned in olive oil with garlic, rosemary, and fennel seeds. I’ve found that if you do this over medium-low heat, the meat will stay tender and not become rubbery. Then, add a can of whole-peeled tomatoes and simmer until they begin to burst. I was always taught not to boil the sauce. I’m not exactly sure why, but I guess it’s just one of those things? Finally, a heaped teaspoon of sugar is sprinkled over the tomatoes to mellow out the acidity, making the sauce pleasantly sweet. Just like grandma did.
For the pasta, the shape is up to you. I went with a shortcut mezzi rigatoni as I thought it would be a nice match for the bite-sized pieces of sausage.
Pasta has always been a comfort food for me. I feel gloriously proud to showcase this meal on one of our family heirlooms. I believe that part of the fun in creating recipes is to share them, so tell me- what were some of your childhood favorite meals? Do you still make them today?
Have a beautiful Sunday, everyone!
- 1 lb. mezzi rigatoni
- 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage (pork, chicken, or turkey)
- 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 small sprig of rosemary
- 1 tsp. fennel seeds
- 1x 28 ox. can of whole-peeled tomatoes
- 1 heaped tsp. sugar
- 1 bunch of fresh basil
- 2 tsp. olive oil
- salt + pepper
- basil leaves
- parmesan cheese
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, reserving a mug of cooking water before draining. You will use this to loosen the sauce if needed.
- In a large 12-inch skillet, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat.
- Add the sliced garlic, rosemary, and fennel seeds. Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Squeeze the sausage meat from its casing and add it to the pan.
- Gently brown the meat, using a wooden spoon to break it up as you go. Lower the heat if necessary so that the meat stays tender and does not become rubbery. It will finish cooking in the sauce.
- Add the tomatoes and bring the sauce to a rolling simmer; do not boil. Cover and cook until the tomatoes have broken down, about 30-40 minutes. Be sure to add a splash of water to your empty can of tomatoes, swirl it around, and add it back to the sauce. No waste!
- Remove the rosemary sprig and skim any oil from the top with a spoon.
- Sprinkle the sugar over the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Adjust taste to your liking.
- Stack about 10 basil leaves on top a of each other and roll them up. Thinly slice into ribbons and add to the sauce.
- Combine the pasta and sauce, adding some of the starchy cooking liquid if needed.
- Serve with parmesan cheese and extra basil leaves.
Any Italian will tell you this tip: add a splash of water to your empty can of tomatoes… swirl it around… and add it back to the sauce. No waste!