Sunday, September 11, 2011

Comfort Food..... what's not to like?

Last night we actually had a storm roll through town.... wind, thunder, lightning and rain coming down in sheets! It surprised me.... not just because these events are rare in the desert, more now than ever.... since "global warming" doesn't exist according to some leading politicians but because more and more our climate here is definitely different than what I remember..... The rain was a welcome sight, love to watch lighting.... although it was a little distracting.... we were watching old shows of "30 rock" on Netflix and were having a good time.....

Anyway, earlier in the day I had gone to Sunflower Market, a supermarket specializing in natural, organic foods that although a chain is pretty good and with more reasonable prices than "Whole Paycheck". They have a line of all-natural in-store made fresh sausages which are usually on sale and so I'd gotten some hot Italian Sausages which I had planned on making some heavy-duty Ragy and maybe Sausage & Peppers. I should mention that they're excellent quality and are tasty, I especially like their Chicken & Habanero Chile or their Chicken, Feta and Spinach..... most excellent! Whenever I don't feel like making my own, these offer a great alternative. Maybe you have a store close to you if you live in California, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Utah or Nevada. Because it's Hatch Chile Season, they've also offered Hatch Chilies but have taken the extra step to offer fresh roasted chilies too (which I think is a great idea and the only store to have them this way....) I also picked some up with many ideas for using them instead of my old reliable Poblano Peppers..... more on this later.

Back to the sausages. I had an idea for a heavy duty Sausage Ragu over pasta that would do nicely for my family's dinner, an easy and faily quick no-fail meal that everyone likes. Flavor plus, hearty and very comforting, what's not to like, right? So here we go....

Old Fashioned Sausage Ragu.- Flavor plus and a great basic sauce you can make ahead in quantity, freeze some for later use or just have on hand for a variety of uses. You can use vegetarian sausage if you like as long as its got great flavor, or any kind of sausage you prefer. You could even use breakfast sausages  for this as long as you add fennel seed and additional spices to transform it.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 sausage large sausage links, hot Italian is our preferred one
1 small onion, diced medium
5-8 garlic cloves, pressed or diced fine
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt & pepper to taste
2 teaspoons dried oregano or 1 teaspoon fresh (crush between your fingers)
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1 tablespoon sugar
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce, preferably San Marzano tomatoes but can be fresh too
8 oz chicken broth or stock (you can use water if you like), or more if you need it
1 cup red wine, your favorite kind but deep, dark red wine (you can use more if you want)
Fresh grated cheese for topping (your choice, just make sure it's a strong flavored cheese like Parmesan, Asiago or an Argentinian Reggianito maybe... have you tried this cheese? it's lovely!) Don't grate in advance

In a large pot, heavy bottomed preferably like a Dutch Oven, and over med-high heat, add the oil and bring it to temperature. Cut a slit on the side of the sausage to take it out of the casing and crumble the meat into the pot to cook. Stir and break up the pieces so it looks like ground meat and cook until well done. Once cooked strain it into a bowl, separating it from whatever juices it has rendered out. Add 2 tablespoons of the juices back into the pot to use for cooking the next items, ok?

Lower the heat to medium. Now add the onion, stir until tender for about 3-4 min, then add the spices and stir until fragrant. Lastly add the garlic and fry for about 1 minute. Now add the tomato paste and mix it in. You need to cook this for about 5 minutes, stirring all the time. Now comes the sugar, stir it in well. Add the tomato sauce and stir. Add the stock and mix in well and then add the wine and make sure it's well incorporated. Check the texture and thickness, it should be the consistency of a medium thick sauce. Remember that you are going to simmer this for about 1 hour and it will reduce some, making it thicker so take this into account, ok?

Your sauce should be bubbling along at this point, lower the heat to low so the sauce can simmer along without splattering all over (you can use a splatter guard if you like but don't cover it as the condensation will add water to the sauce and will dilute it. You can partially cover as long as no water drips into the sauce). You want a nice, low bubbling action, nice and gentle but definitely there. Now leave the sauce alone only coming back to stir it every now and then to insure nothing is sticking or burning on the bottom of the pot. Once it begins to thicken it's done, turn off the heat and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes to rest while you get the rest of your meal in place.

If you're having this over pasta then once the pasta is "al dente", put a large pan over med-high heat and add the quantity of sauce you will need for your meal (this way the rest will be clean and able to be stored), add your pasta directly from the cooking water, dripping some of the pasta cooking water along with it, this will finish cooking your pasta bringing it from the "al dente" stage to the "perfect texture to eat" stage), mix the pasta with the sauce and serve.

Top with a little finishing oil (this is not the same quality olive oil that you cook with but high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil not meant for cooking that generally costs more and is fragrant and fruity), and then the grated cheese and enjoy!......

NOTE: This is the basic recipe but you can always can always add to it with the addition of mushrooms, veggies or anything else that appeals to you.

Don't have to tell you that we really enjoyed our meal. I served this sauce with some thick spaghetti since I couldn't find Bucatini but it was fine. I always make extra and so was able to put some away for a "rainy day"... wait! isn't that now? lol.....

Hope you will try this recipe and let me know how you liked it.... Enjoy!

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