Once again, during this crisis, I tentatively prepared a New York Times recipe for a ragù that I had filed away but wasn’t quite sure would work out because of the quality of the main ingredient: sausage.
Under normal circumstances, I would have been using sausage from my local salumeria, but given our shelter-in-place restrictions, this was not a possibility. Thanks to the extraordinary kindness of some young neighbors, however, I was able to procure, among a load of other groceries, a log of bulk sausage from our local supermarket.
Upon opening the meat, I wasn’t too hopeful. It looked more like liverwurst than sausage. But my concern decreased as I started to cook and crumble the meat and it began to resemble sausage. Unlike my regular Italian sausage, it didn’t appear to have much seasoning, so I added some fennel pollen, crushed red-pepper flakes, and ground black pepper. My hope began to increase.
As I proceeded with the cooking, I began to regret not having my better half, as he usually does, photograph the recipe. While the sauce simmered, the aromas began to come close to those I would expect from a sausage ragù and I grew even more heartened. Finally, when the sauce was done and seasoned with more salt and pepper, I tossed it with the pasta adding just a scant ladleful of pasta water to loosen the sauce and a generous sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Delizioso.
Although some traditionalists may rant, and with some reason, that a true ragù requires hours of slow simmering and tending, this one, nonetheless, came real close in approximating the rich texture and slow-cooked flavor of a traditional ragù.
Other than not having taken a load of photos, my only real regret was not being able to share this dish with my caring neighbors who shoppe for and provided us with the makings for this dinner. Let them be an example to any of my younger readers who may have senior neighbors that may need some assistance during these trying days.
Sausage Ragù (adapted from a recipe by Julia Moskin on the New York Times “Cooking” website)
1 pound sweet Italian sausage or bulk sausage meat
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely minced
1 carrot, finely minced
1 celery stalk, finely minced
¼ cup minced flat-leaf parsley
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, with its juice, crushed
1 large sprig fresh thyme
1 large sprig fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons imported concentrated tomato paste
Freshly ground black pepper
Additional seasonings like fennel pollen, crushed red-pepper flakes, minced garlic
1 pound short dried pasta like penne, cavatappi, or mezzi rigatoni
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish, optional
1. In a heavy skillet or Dutch oven, over medium-low, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add sausage meat If using sausages, open the casings and remove meat. Crumble the meat and sauté, breaking up any large chunks, until all the meat has turned lost its raw color but not browned, about 5 minutes. For more flavor, add any additional seasonings to enhance the flavor of the sausage. I opted for some fennel pollen and black pepper.
2. Add onion, carrot, celery and parsley and stir. If pan looks dry at any time during this step, add a little more oil. Cook over very low heat, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to caramelize, and the meat is toasty brown. About 40 minutes.
3. Add tomatoes and their juice, breaking up the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, then add whole herbs and simmer, uncovered, until thickened and pan is almost dry, 20 to 25 minutes.
4. Mix tomato paste with 1 cup hot water. Add to pan, reduce heat to very low, and continue cooking until the ragù is velvety and dark red, and the top glistens with oil, about 10 to 20 minutes more. Remove herb sprigs. Taste and, if necessary, adjust for seasoning.
5. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions, until al dente. Reserve about 2 cups of the pasta water.
6. Over low heat, toss the pasta in the sauce until coated. If it looks too thick, add some of the pasta water, a ladleful at a time. Remove from heat and sprinkle with cheese.
7. Serve in heated pasta bowls, accompanied by additional cheese.
Wine Pairing: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo