Rigatoni with Italian Sausage and Red Sauce

On busy nights, pasta with red sauce is a great go-to dinner. It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s inexpensive.

A box of pasta and a jar of red sauce can serve at least four people, and together they cost less than $2.50, or about $.63/portion, which is not bad.

What is bad, however, are most jarred tomato sauces. Both the name brand sauces that cost more — like Ragu and Prego — and the store brand or packer brand sauces usually are bland, tasteless and disappointing.

But I’ve been using this recipe to fortify ordinary pasta sauces for years and the result is a tangy, delicious and nutrition-packed red sauce that will please your family and spare your pocket book. Because most of the flavor is added during cooking, you can start with any brand of red sauce. I usually pick up a couple of jars just to keep on hand whenever they go on sale.

This red sauce can go with any pasta, from spaghetti to ravioli to stuffed shells or manicotti. You can even put it on a pizza, although I prefer my extremely simple pizza sauce recipe.

I used rigatoni, one of my favorite pastas. I just love to use it when I’m including Italian sausage in my pasta because they are both about the same shape and it just looks better. I always have plenty of grated parmesan on hand as well.

Whole Wheat Rigatoni with Italian Sausage and Red Sauce

1 box dry whole wheat rigatoni noodles

1 jar red pasta sauce, any kind

3 TBS EVOO, separated

1 onion, medium dice

1/2 green pepper, ribs and seeds removed, medium dice

6 to 8 white button mushrooms, sliced (you can use canned if you want)

3 cloves garlic, rough chop

1 lb Italian sausage, either spicy or mild

1 TBS Italian seasoning

Fresh cracked black pepper

1/4 cup grated parmesan (or more)

1. Cook rigatoni according to package directions, usually 10 minutes. Drain but don’t rinse. Return to pot, drizzle generously with EVOO, season with salt and pepper and toss. Cover and set aside.

2. Put cast iron skillet on the fire. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, make a slit down the sausage casing and remove sausage from the casing and add to the pan. Use a spantula to break up the sausage into 1″ chunks. Brown about 5 minutes, stirring frequently so that all sides are browned. Set aside.

3. Put sauce pan on the fire. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, add onions and green pepper. Cook until onions translucent, about five minutes, then add mushrooms and the Italian sausage, making sure to include all the flavorful oil from the bottom of the cast iron pan. Cook until mushrooms browned, about 3 minutes, then add garlic and Italian seasoning. Cook another minute, then pour jar of red suace into the pan and stir. Fill empty jar with a little bit of water, replace lid and shake to get all the excess sauce out, then pour it into the pan and stir. When it begins to bubble, reduce the flame to a simmer and cook about five minutes. Turn it off.

4. To plate, spoon a little of the pasta into the center of a pasta bowl. Then spoon a generous amount of sauce on top of the pasta, making sure to display lots of big chunks of sausage. Sprinkle generously with parmesan cheese.

If you have a small can of sliced black olives lying around, they go great in this recipe as well. I normally serve this with garlic bread and with hot sauce on the side. This makes a great mid-week mid-winter meal.

What fast, inexpensive dishes do you make for your family this time of year? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog.

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