Roasted Tomato Sauce with Sausage and Rapini

  • 1 1/2 lbs cherry or grape tomatoes, halved if they’re large, quartered if large than 1 1/2″
  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 2 T red wine vinegar
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 links Italian sausage, sliced into coins
  • 1 large onion, finely diced 
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T capers, drained and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped olives, kalamata or green
  • 1 anchovy, mashed or 1/2 t anchovy paste
  • 1/2 t red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 C dry white wine
  • 1 pound pasta (I like either linguine or rotini with this)
  • 1 large bunch rapini or other bitter green, rinsed and roughly chopped, tough stems removed
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley (you probably won’t use all of this)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2-4 oz finely grated hard Italian cheese like Pecorino

Brown the sausage coins on medium heat with a little oil in a large oven-proof skillet. Remove sausage and set aside. Toss the tomatoes with olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and thyme sprigs and add to the pan. Be careful to not over-salt at this stage as you’ll be adding in rather salty ingredients next. Stir gently to deglaze and then roast in the oven at 375°F for 20-30 minutes, stirring once. Meanwhile prepare the onions, garlic, capers, olives, anchovy, red pepper flakes and mix all together with the wine. Add to the tomato mixture and return to the oven, roasting for a further 20-30 minutes until the onions are soft and translucent, stirring half-way through. Remove thyme stems before adding to pasta. Add in a ladle or two of the starchy pasta water if needed to thin it out.

While roasting the sauce for the final time, boil your pasta water and prep your greens. I like to get the younger rapini bunches if possible so you can use more of the tender stems which means both less waste and less prep. Slice the greens into approx. 1″ ribbons and chop the flower heads and tender stems into 2″ long pieces, discarding any stems any thicker than about 1/4″, or any stems you can’t easily eat raw.  Boil the pasta in salted water for just under the recommended al dente time (since the pasta will finish cooking with the sauce), adding in the greens 1 1/2 minutes before the pasta will be ready. Immediately drain and add back to the pasta pot along with the hot sauce and reserved sausage pieces. Dress with chopped Italian parsley, olive oil, grated cheese and lemon zest to taste, reserving some of the parsley, oil and cheese to use as a final garnish at the table.

This recipe can easily be made vegetarian by omitting the sausage and anchovy.

Orecchiette with Rapini

This dish is known in Italian as Pasta con le cime di rapa and is a very popular dish in Southern Italy (Puglia) and Sicily. That link will send you to my former room-mate’s blog, who initially introduced me to the dish, originally wrote this recipe, and whose instructions I used in this recipe, with a few changes of my own.

  • 2 bunches rapini (aka broccoli rabe). If unavailable use broccolini, or a mixture of broccoli and spinach, chard and/or turnip greens.
  • 1 lb. orecchiette, preferably artisinal
  • extra-virgin olive oil, to taste
  • several cloves of garlic, minced
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 – 2 C of hard cheese: parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano (preferred), finely grated. I usually do a mix of the two.
  • fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
  • kosher/sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 C breadcrumbs, toasted
  • zest of 1 lemon

Put a large pot of heavily salted water on to boil. Rinse the broccoli rabe and cut off the harder, thicker portions of the stem, keeping the leaves,  florets, and tender stems. Cut the greens crosswise into short ribbons an inch wide. When the water boils, empty in the box of pasta and cook until pasta is barely al dente. Half-way through the pasta’s cooking time, add in the rapini. If you like your greens softer, you can add them in earlier, even before you add in the pasta. I prefer mine still crunchy to soft.

Meanwhile, mince the garlic. Sauté on low in a few tablespoons of olive oil with the red pepper flakes, fresh cracked pepper, and kosher salt until the garlic’s and pepper flakes’ flavours are released. (Do not let the garlic brown or it will become bitter!)

Mix the breadcrumbs with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, and toast in a small frying pan over medium heat, mixing often until evenly toasted. Once it starts to toast, it goes very quickly, so be sure to keep an eye on it!  Allow to cool slightly, season with a little kosher salt, and then mix in the lemon zest.

As soon as the pasta is done, drain and mix in the garlic, red pepper and olive oil, along with a few handfuls of cheese and the salt and pepper. Add more olive oil and cheese until the pasta is nicely coated. Serve with yet more cheese, parsley, toasted lemon breadcrumbs, and olive oil.

This dish is great with a nice white wine like a Sauvignon Blanc or even a mild Chardonnay.

Grilled Zucchini and Mushroom Pasta al Forno

1 lb whole wheat spaghetti

2 lbs of zucchini cut into thick slices about 1″ (I used 2 globe zucchini)
extra virgin olive oil
garlic powder
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

1 lb crimini mushrooms, roughly chopped
vegetable oil
butter

1 large onion, diced, divided
5 garlic cloves, minced, divided

2 large cans diced tomatoes
1/2 C dry white wine
red pepper flakes
1/4 C fresh basil chiffonade
1 small jar capers

mixture of white Italian cheeses* such as:
mozzarella
parmigiano reggiano
fontina

Sauté on medium heat half of the diced onion in about 1 T each of olive oil and butter and until softened, adding kosher salt to sweat the onion. Add in red pepper flakes to taste as well as the drained capers and half of the minced garlic. Once the garlic is soft, add in the wine and cook until nearly evaporated. Add in the tomatoes and their juices and lower the heat. Simmer all ingredients on low until ready to assemble in a large casserole dish, adding a little water as needed to keep the sauce rather thin but still flavourful.

Brush your zucchini slices with olive oil and season liberally with kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and garlic powder. Grill until very well done where you have very intense grill marks and it is rather soft – which makes it important to have thick slices else it will fall apart.   I like to grill until just before it becomes burnt – this really intensifies the flavour of the zucchini and gives the end dish a very nice smokey flavour.  Allow to cool and then slice into 1/2″ wide strips.

Heat a cast iron pan which has a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil in it until very hot. Add mushrooms and sauté until well browned. Lower the heat to medium low and add in the other half of the diced onion, rest of the garlic, a couple tablespoons of butter and season with salt and pepper. Continue to sauté until the onions are soft, being careful to not let either onions or garlic burn.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Boil spaghetti until it is just underdone – remove and drain before the al dente stage because it will continue to cook in the oven.

Take the sauce off the heat and add in your chiffonade of basil.

Layer in the casserole dish a few ladlefulls of sauce, about half the pasta, then more sauce, 3/4 of the mushrooms, 2/3 of the grilled zucchini, 1/2 the cheese and then the rest of the pasta, the rest of the mushrooms and zucchini, the remainder of the sauce, and finally top with the last half of the cheese.  Bake in a 375F oven for about 25-40 minutes until the cheese is browned and the sauce is bubbly.  I garnished the top with a small handful of basil flowers I stripped off the stem from my basil plants.

*In any baked pasta dish I like a mixture of at least three cheeses – a nice melty cheese like mozzarella or havarti, a salty robust hard cheese like parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano, and a medium, full-bodied cheese like fontina. I used what I had on hand which was: mozzarella, havarti, parmigiano reggiano, and extra sharp white cheddar, and it turned out very well indeed.

Turkey Sausage Pasta with Four Cheese Fresh Tomato Sauce

1 1/2 lbs tri-colour rotini
1 lb sweet italian turkey sausage
1 small red onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 t red chilli pepper flakes
8 medium tomatoes, diced
1/2 – 3/4 c dry white wine
100 g of capers
2 large stems of basil leaves
1/4 c flat leaf parsley
3-4 oz fresh mozarella
3-4 oz ricotta salata
1/2 c grated parmigiano reggiano
1/2 c pecorino romano
extra virgin olive oil

Slice the sausages into 1″ pieces and sauté in a little olive oil. Once browned, set aside. Add a little more oil to your pan and sauté the onion and garlic, adding in kosher salt to sweat them out so they don’t burn. Add in the chilli flakes. Once the onions are soft, add 1/2 – 3/4 c of a good dry white wine (a Chardonnay is good in this) – the same one you want to drink along side this. Reduce until nearly evaporated and then add in the diced tomatoes and the drained capers. If the capers are salt-packed you’ll need to rinse them quite well. Simmer the sauce on low and meanwhile set the pasta water on to boil.

After simmering for about 10-15 min, chiffonade the basil and add to the sauce. It will be very watery, but once you add it to the pasta will thicken up and the pasta will absorb a lot of the tomato juices. Chop the parsley and reserve to add in with the cheeses. Grate the hard cheeses, crumble the ricotta salata. Drain and dice the mozarella (or buy the tiny balls and just drain them).

Once the pasta is cooked to al dente, drain & dress with olive oil. Add in the sauce, parsley, and cheese and mix well. Add in more olive oil and salt to taste. Serve with the wine.

Lemon Tuna Pasta

2 lbs Rotini

1 large onion, diced
3-4 minced garlic cloves
1 finely minced carrot
dried chilli pepper flakes (to taste – I like to use a lot, about 2 t)
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
1 small jar of capers, drained
3/4 C dry white wine
2 12 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
two tins of good tuna in olive oil, drained
zest of 2 lemons, juice of 1
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano, grated

Sauté the onion and carrot in olive oil until soft, seasoning with kosher salt and a little pepper. Add the garlic and chilli flakes and sauté a couple minutes longer being sure the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the wine and reduce until almost completely evaporated. Add in the capers and tuna and the tomatoes. Let simmer for about 15 minutes, in the mean time putting the pasta water on to boil.

Once you add the pasta to the salted water, add the lemon juice and zest and half of the parsley in to the sauce and continue to simmer for about 10 minutes more or until the pasta is ready. Check for salt, and add more if needed.

Mix the pasta and sauce and serve with the reserved parsley and grated cheese and a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil.

Roasted Squash Purée

1 medium-large squash or 2 small (butternut, acorn, etc)

2 1/2 t fresh thyme leaves
1 t fresh rosemary needles
3 garlic cloves
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Cut the squash in half, remove the seeds and pulp, and place in a small roasting pan. Finely chop the thyme and rosemary, mince the garlic, and place into a small bowl. Season well with salt and pepper. Add in enough olive oil to make a thick paste. Spread over the squash, and roast at 400℉ for 45 minutes until the squash is very soft.  Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes.

With a large metal spoon, remove the squash flesh from the rind and mash in a bowl with a potato/vegetable masher.

This is a very versatile basic recipe which can be made into or incorporated into a variety of other dishes.

  • Eaten on its own as a side dish, garnished perhaps with a little pecorino romano or parmigiano reggiano cheese and fresh herbs
  • Used as a filling for ravioli
  • As the base for a pasta sauce, if added to a large pan, heated up, diluted with either vegetable/chicken stock or milk/cream and a little starchy pasta water, and then adding in long pasta like linguine or fettuccine
  • Used to make into a soup if you add in some stock and perhaps a little cream and use a wand blender to blend until smooth.

Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce

2 lbs of a short pasta (I used gigli)

a very good extra virgin olive oil, preferably a high-quality import

several very ripe tomatoes – I had about a pound of grape tomatoes and 6 medium-large
2 shallots
3 garlic cloves
1 t red chilli flakes
1/2 dry white wine
1/2 bunch Italian parsley
4 large stems fresh basil
Pecorino Romano

kosher salt
black pepper

Dice the tomatoes and put into a large saucepan or pot. Cook uncovered on medium heat for 30-45 minutes until very soft and juicy, but not long enough to thicken the sauce too much or remove the fresh flavour of the tomatoes. Mince the shallots and garlic. Sauté the shallots in olive oil for a few minutes, seasoning with kosher salt so they sweat, as well as freshly ground black pepper. Then add in the garlic and red chilli flakes, sauté a few minutes more until the shallots and garlic are soft, and add in the wine, reducing until nearly evaporated. Then add in the tomato sauce. Roughly chop the parsley and half of the basil. Check the sauce for salt, and add quite a bit more here. Add 3/4 of the parsley and all the chopped basil, and simmer for a few minutes.

While the tomato sauce simmers, cook the pasta to al dente according to the directions on the packaging, being certain to season the water well with kosher salt as soon as it reaches boiling. Chiffonade the remaining half of the basil and grate the cheese.

As soon as the pasta is cooked (al dente!) drain, drizzle with olive oil, and again check the sauce for saltiness. It is very, very easy to under-salt fresh tomato sauce, so be very liberal with your salting. Add the pasta to the sauce.

When serving, top with cheese, chiffonade of basil, a sprinkling of parsley, and a drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil, as well as a final sprinkle of kosher salt.

The flavour of this sauce is really quite amazing, and completely different from a tomato sauce made from canned or jarred tomatoes. You don’t want to cook the sauce very long at all, and want the herbs to still taste fresh. Make sure to use authentic, sheep’s-milk pecorino romano, not the weird stuff they call romano in American stores that tastes exactly like what they claim is parmesan and asiago – all of it is nothing compared to the real thing. A good Italian import is what is wanted, and it doesn’t have to be the most expensive. Go to your local Italian speciality grocery or cheese monger, and ask to sample their cheeses, which they should gladly do. You should also ask to sample the olive oil, trying several before you purchase (as well as balsamic vinegar).