Rosa’s Sausage and Tomato Sauce

February 1, 2011

Winter is a good time for hearty pastas drenched in rich and dense sauces, and this sausage and tomato sauce is one of my favorites. I’m not big on plain tomato sauce unless the fruit is just-picked, perfectly ripe, and barely cooked. One of the reasons I love this sauce is that once the tomato is cooked with sausage, grated zucchini, and fresh rosemary, and then doused with cream, the tomato flavor plays only a bit part.

My friend Rosa is one of those women who can make or bake anything to perfection, and her prowess in the kitchen is enviable. Recipes gush out of her like uncorked spumanti, and I only wish I could remember half of those she’s shared with me — or make them half as well as she does. We’re often cooking or eating when she shares those recipes, so they end up scribbled on napkins or paper scraps. I’m lucky if I get all the ingredients down, much less the quantities. I doubt my version of this sauce tastes as good as hers, and I’ve surely adjusted the quantities to fit my tastes (heavy on the meat and rosemary), but it usually turns out good all the same.

This last time, however, something wasn’t quite right. Since I was hoping to turn it into a post, I called up Rosa and ran through the list of ingredients.  She assured me I was in the ballpark with the quantities, and we decided that it must have been the sausage that wasn’t quite up to the quality needed for the quantity I used in a meat-based sauce. (I usually use our favorite link sausages, but I didn’t have any on hand, so I settled for bulk sausage at the local market.) The sauce wasn’t terrible by any means, it just wasn’t amazing. (The leftovers were already better than the original dinner, though, likely due to the flavors melding with the pasta and the addition of a little more cream while reheating.)

Starting with good sausage is key, and find the freshest rosemary you can (since it’s going to fall apart into the sauce, use only the softer tips). Even though the tomatoes play a supporting role, if they’re not good tomatoes, you’ll know. Unless it’s the middle of a sun-kissed tomato season here in Oregon, I strictly use imported tomatoes in sauce.

(Kathleen’s version of) Rosa’s Sugo di Salsiccia e Pomodoro

  • 1/2 onion, chopped small
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 – 1 pound good sausage, ground
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 small to medium zucchini, grated
  • 4  tips fresh rosemary, each about 3″ long
  • 1 28 ounce can Italian tomatoes
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 pound hearty pasta, such as penne rigate or rustic linguini
  • fresh-grated Parmigiano

Saute the onion in the oil.  As you’ll be adding additional fat with the sausage, you need only enough oil to coat the onion, but if it’s not coated, add a bit more.

Once the onion is translucent, add the sausage and mash into small bits. Cook at a medium/low heat until the exterior looses its raw, pink color. Add the wine, and raise the heat to medium.


Meanwhile, grate the zucchini. When the wine has mostly evaporated from the sausage mix, add the zucchini and rosemary and cook until the zucchini is soft.

Add the tomatoes and their juice, mash well, and cook until the liquid created by the zucchini and the tomato water condenses. Once you’re sure the sausage has cooked (shouldn’t be more than 10 minutes into this stage), taste for salt and add if needed. The quantity will depend on how seasoned your sausage is.

Start your pasta water boiling if you haven’t already.

Because of the moisture in the zucchini and tomatoes, this sauce can easily take 45 minutes to condense. This could help you pass the time:

When the oil starts pooling on top of the mix, you’re nearly there.  Once you’re sure your sauce is almost ready, cook your pasta al dente.

Strain the pasta, add the cream to the sauce, and toss it all together with the pasta. Serve with freshly-grated Parmigiano and a bottle of hearty red wine.

Unless you like your pasta swimming in sauce, this recipe makes enough for up to 8 servings (2 pounds of pasta). Keeps refrigerated for 4 or so days or frozen for 30. Add a little cream when reheating leftovers to keep the sauce smooth and creamy.

Buon Appetito ~

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