Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pasta two ways. sausages and market vegetables.

Last Friday at the market I came home laden with all kinds of greens, chard and kale and beet and escarole. There were shallots and carrots and onions and two fat beefsteak tomatoes. What on earth was I going to do with them all? The kale we ate that night, sautéed with shallots and finely sliced guanciale and tossed with orecchiette and a handful of grana padano cheese. I reflected that pasta was the perfect lazy cook's one-dish dinner, stuffed with vegetables and a little meat and some cheese. It has everything you need. If you are feeding other people, you might add a salad and a loaf of garlic bread, something chocolate and gooey for dessert. (Or you could go all the way and make it a first course, after a series of cold appetizers, before seafood and meat main dishes, the way A. often does). If you are alone, or with someone else who doesn't mind the lack of garlic bread and salad, then it becomes dinner, followed by brownies or Girl Scout cookies from the freezer.

Last night I made pasta with escarole and sausage for C., who had requested it. It was one of those dishes I threw together on the spur of the moment and has since become a staple, with various refinements and variations. It is never quite the same each time. The escarole was sliced and gently sautéed in a little olive oil, and then braised in chicken stock. I finely chopped some onion and thickly sliced some cremini mushrooms, and sautéed them in more olive oil. Out came the vegetables, in went spicy Italian sausage, enough for two meals. Half of the cooked sausage went into the fridge, for another experiment, and the rest was left to simmer with the escarole, mushrooms, and onions, while the pasta finished boiling away on another burner. When the timer rang, I scooped the rigatoni into the meat and vegetables, and tossed it all together, with a handful of grated cheese and a sprinkling of salt. It was very good, but my mind was already on what I would make with the rest of the sausage, the second half of the onion.

Today I went about my work with one idea fixed firmly in my mind: a ragu of spicy sausage and sautéed onions and those two fat beefsteak tomatoes that I had inadvertently left at work the other day. I came home hungry and determined; it took no time at all to sauté the chopped onions in olive oil, until they were translucent, while I diced the fresh tomatoes and dropped them in with the onions. Soon, the tomatoes had cooked down into a slushy sauce. I stirred in the cold leftover sausage, left it all to simmer, and went back to packing for my trip. The apartment filled with the scent of tomatoes and sausage and fried onions. I went up to the gym to pedal away furiously (well, ok, not very furiously) on the stationary bicycle while watching the Food Network, and came back down ready for my dinner. I boiled penne and brought the sauce back to a simmer, poured the drained, cooked pasta into the meaty ragu. With a handful of grated cheese on top, it was perfect.

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