I still love a steaming hot dog from a street vendor or a beer and a brat at Oktoberfest. But there is more to sausage than the “tube steak” that we loved as kids. The ground, seasoned and cased meat is inexpensive, nutritious and has endless possibilities in the kitchen.
Today I offer up a quick and inexpensive pasta. It is power packed with flavor and nutrition. Once you learn to make this you can apply the techniques to a wealth of creative variations.
Keep an eye out for sausages sold individually. This usually means that they are made on the premises and therefore don’t have anything that you can’t pronounce in them. Sausages should only have ground meat and spices. Make sure you always ask if they are locally made, what’s in them and if they are pre-cooked. When they are not at the meat counter, sausages often come 5 or 6 to a package. This is not the end of the world. You can cook them all and refrigerate the unused ones for later. I have been known to snack on one right out of the fridge. You can also freeze them.
- 2 Sweet or Spicy Sausages
- 1 Fennel Bulb
- 1 Red, Orange or Yellow Pepper
- 2 Garlic Cloves
- 2 Slices of Pancetta
- Penne Pasta
- Olive Oil
- Heavy Cream (or Half and Half)
- Parmesan Cheese
- Salt and Pepper
- Italian Parsley (optional)
- Slotted Spoon or Tongs
- Chef’s Knife
- Chopping Board
- Large Pot
- Sauté Pan
- Dice the pancetta into ¼ inch cubes. I have seen pancetta that comes already diced. This is only a good choice if it is inexpensive. Pancetta is usually sold by weight and you can request as much or as little as you need.
- Mince the garlic.
- Chop the pepper into bite-sized pieces.
- Clean and chop the fennel, removing the tough core and the top. Reserve a few of the fronds (those wispy, green things sticking off the top).
- Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a good size pan.
- While the pan is heating, fill a 4-5 quart pot with enough water (about 5 cups) to cook a couple of handfuls of pasta. Set the heat to high.
- In the saucepan, add the sausages. Brown them on all sides.
- After they are browned add a splash of water and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Cooking sausages takes some getting used to because the length of time needed will depend on the size and ingredients. When in doubt, cut into the middle of one. Turkey or pork sausages should not be pink.
- Set them aside to cool.
- 10. Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine. The idea is to get the stuck bits from the sausages dislodged.
- 11. Add a little more olive oil and the pancetta. Cook until slightly crispy. Keep it moving so it doesn’t stick.
- 12. Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic.
- 13. Once this becomes fragrant add the vegetables and stir occasionally.
- 14. Cut the sausages into bit sized pieces. Add those back to the pan.
- 15. The water should be boiling by now. Liberally salt it and add a couple of handfuls of penne pasta. The great thing about dried pasta is that it keeps and you can cook just as much as you are going to eat. Stir the pasta occasionally.
- 16. The sauce should take about the same amount of time as the pasta, about 10-12 minutes.
- 17. Turn the heat off of the sauce and add a good splash of heavy cream. You can use half and half if you don’t want to bother with the cream.
- 18. Remove the pasta with a slotted spoon or tongs and add it to the sauce. You might also want a splash or two of the pasta water if the concoction doesn’t seem “saucy” enough.
Serve in a bowl with grated parmesan (not the green can, please) and some chopped Italian parsley.