As I said a few weeks ago, this is the month of sausage.
I just got home to New Hampshire on Wednesday and I’ve already spotted a bag of treasure in the freezer – my mom’s sausage balls. We’ll set them out as an hors d’oeuvre on Christmas Eve before we dive into a sausage-filled white lasagna, which we’ll eat before we go to bed and wake up to eat a sausage covered strata. But you’ve heard this spiel before.
Today I want to tell you about the dish that almost (very slightly) changed our Christmas Eve tradition.
In late November, a few days after Thanksgiving, I was still here in New Hampshire using up a few vacation days. As is my weekly habit now, I got the itch to make fresh pasta. Coincidentally, my papa had a sausage ragu recipe he wanted to try out so a Sunday night dinner collaboration came about very easily. Papa made the ragu. I made the pasta and my dad happily contributed some of his homemade bread for the side. (My mom also asked me to make some of Julia’s vinaigrette, surprise, surprise. A very satisfying homemade meal, all around.)
New Hampshire pasta and ragu below:
I was expecting dinner to be very good indeed, because how could sausage over fresh pasta not be?
Oh boy. It was better than very good. It was perfect. The toothy texture of the fresh pasta, the fennel-y burst of the ragu, the salty hit of the grated parmesan. Simply heaven. And anything you can eat out of a bowl this time of year only makes a good thing better.
Afterwards, my mom suggested that maybe, just maybe, this year we might prefer to have this for Christmas Eve dinner since it was: 1. So wonderfully delicious, and 2. “Lighter” than the lasagna (barely).
Still, tradition has stuck and we’re going with the lasagna again.
As a stickler for tradition*, and also as somebody who loves the heck outta that white lasagna, I’m perfectly ok with that. I’m also okay with it as somebody who served this very ragu only days ago for a cozy, Sunday night dinner party. Sausage ragu three times in one month may be excessive. Maybe.
Sunday was a perfectly dreary day to cozy up and dive into bowls of pasta with friends, especially since we’d all had a rather rambunctious weekend dashing between holiday parties and staying up singing and ribbon-dancing til the wee hours of the morning. The photos are a bit moody, thanks to the weather, but the dinner was anything but.
A note, for those making fresh pasta to go with this – dust the noodles with plenty of semolina, especially if you won’t be cooking them immediately. I learned that the hard way as I tried breaking up clumps of pappardelle noodles in a panic while my friends sat in the next room. I managed to break some clumps apart, but I’ve made better noodles before. (See NH photos)
(By the way, my friends aren’t imaginary…I just didn’t get any photos from our dinner, so the finished bowls above are from my own private leftover party two days later.)
Hey guys! Merry Christmas! I’ll check in again after I pull myself out of my sausage coma.
*I think I’ve said, “I’m a stickler for tradition” maybe 6 times on this blog. So if someone could get me a thesaurus or something, that’d be great.
Pappardelle with Sausage Ragu
From Cook’s Country
Serves 4-6 people, with ragu leftovers
½ fennel bulb, stalks discarded, bulb cored and chopped coarsely
½ onion, chopped coarsely
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
2 lbs sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
¾ cup red wine
1 lb pappardelle
Grated Parmesan cheese
- Pulse fennel, onion, and fennel seeds in food processor until finely chopped, about 15 seconds. Scrape down the sides if necessary. Set aside in a small bowl.
- Pulse tomatoes in food processor until smooth, about 15 seconds. Set aside in small bowl.
- Pulse sausage in the food processor for about (all together!) 15 seconds. Scrape down the sides if necessary. Set aside in a…small bowl!
- Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it’s shimmering. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up meat with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula. Cook for about 15 minutes when the meat is just or almost cooked through.
- Add the fennel mixture and ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir occasionally for about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, garlic, and oregano and cook, stirring constantly for 30-45 seconds.
- Stir in wine, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Cook until the wine has almost evaporated, about a minute. Add 1 cup of water and the pureed tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Simmer gently and uncovered until the ragu has thickened, about 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm over the lowest flame.
- Bring a large pot of water (3/4 full) to a boil and add a generous few pinches of salt. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions, minus a minute or two. Add the pasta, stirring often.
- Before draining, reserve a cup of pasta water. Drain the pasta, return it to the empty pot and add about 3 cups of ragu plus ½ a cup of pasta water. Toss to combine. Adjust consistency with remaining cooking water or a little more ragu.
- Transfer to a serving dish, drizzle with some olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan.
- Dive into that bowl of pasta and sausage and don’t come up til you’re ready for bowl #2.
- Leftover ragu can be kept in the fridge for speedy leftovers or sneaky little spoonfuls for about a week. Or put it in the freezer to maintain some semblance of self-control for a month or two.