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.

One Pot Rigatoni with Broccoli and Italian Sausage

There are an infinite number of ways to make pasta, but sometimes simplicity is the best option.

I’ve been making this simple recipe regularly since a roomate first showed it to me more than 23 years ago. Until then, pastas for me were always prepared with a dense red ragu sauce, a creamy al fredo sauce, or perhaps a sweet clam sauce.

The secret to this pasta is that there is no sauce. Just extra virgin olive oil.

Olive oil is one of the most flavorful of cooking oils. It has an excellent flavor that ranges from subtle to overpowering, depending on the grade of oil and where it came from. The best olive oils are called “extra virgin”, which means the oil was made by the first pressing of the olives, it has less than 0.8 percent free fatty acids, and its flavor was declared superior by a blind taste test panel.

I use extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) almost exclusively in my home kitchen — for both dressings and for cooking. It has a lower smoke point, due to its lower free fatty acid content, but I think the flavor it adds is worth the sacrifice. If I really need to sear something super hot, I will use a canola oil. In commercial applications, I use all kinds of oils that are not relevant to the home cook.

The subtle tang of EVOO pairs naturally with the nutty sweetness of parmesan cheese, and that pairing is the basis for this pasta recipe. Until recently, I would use four separate pots and pans to make this recipe, but I learned that with a little planning, everything can be made in one pot. Much less cleanup afterwards!

Usually, I make this recipe with rigatoni because its shape is closest in size to the broccoli florets and sausage peices, so it works better aesthetically. But in the past I’ve also made it with penne and even spaghetti. Use whatever you prefer or happen to have on hand.

If you want to use only one pot for this recipe, it’s important to have everything prepped ahead of time because given the sequence of cooking, it’s hard to stop and start. The traditional term for this is “mise en place” (MEES en plahs), which is French for “Everthing in it’s place”.

Mise en place

Mise en place

One Pot Rigatoni with Broccoli and Italian Sausage

3/4 lb spicy Italian sausage, skin removed and cut into 1″ chunks

1 lb box dry rigatoni

2 TBS EVOO

1/2 lb broccoli

1/2 medium white onion, medium dice

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

4-5 white mushrooms, sliced

3-4 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 cup water or chicken stock

1/4 cup EVOO

1/2 cup grated parmesan

1/2 tsp red pepper flake

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add rigatoni and cook according to package directions, about 7-9 minutes. Strain in a colander, but don’t rinse with water. Occasionally give it a shake to keep the pasta from sticking together.

2. Return pot to fire. When hot, add 2 TBS of EVOO. When smoking, add onions and peppers and cook until onion just start to be translucent, about three minutes, stirring frequently. Add sausage and cook until meat begins to brown, about another three minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until mushrooms start to brown, about another two minutes, then add garlic and cook another minute. Then add broccoli, stir so that everything is covered in oil, then add water or stock, cover and cook until broccoli is soft, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. During the last minute, return the pasta to the pot and toss, then cook the final minute to reheat the pasta.

3. Remove from heat and stir in EVOO, parmesan and chili flakes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. To plate, mound in center of pasta bowls and top with additional parmesan for garnish.

If you happen to have sliced black olives lying around, they also fit in nicely with this dish.

What tried and true recipes have you been making for decades? Share you wealth in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!