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 ~

Rosemary Shortbread

July 25, 2010

When your computer dies, make more dessert!

I did not intend to write about yet another dessert, but due to a motherboard failure, my computer is imprisoned at a local repair shop waiting for warranty parts to arrive. So are all the food photos I finally downloaded from my phone. Chilled Pasta Primavera and Saged Chicken Stuffed with Sautéed Kale, Bacon, Caramelized Onions, and Goat Cheese will have to wait.

Luckily, I recently inherited my husband’s old laptop. I also have an insatiable sweet tooth and will gladly suffer through a spontaneous batch of Rosemary Shortbread for the sake of this blog. No kicking. No screaming. It actually works out quite well – these cookies are light and a tad savory, are complimented by a glass of hearty red wine, and will be the perfect contribution to the barbecue we’re attending tomorrow.

Minced Rosemary

I was introduced to Rosemary Shortbread by Ruby, Eugene’s bottle-cap artist extraordinaire. True to my tendencies, I tweaked the recipe to fit my taste. With this one, it was the simple addition of salt, which I think enhances the flavor of both the rosemary and the butter. Try it both ways if you’re inclined – figure out which suits your fancy.

If at all possible, harvest the rosemary just before making these cookies, and use only the soft tips of each branch. This time of year, that means 2-3 inch fronds on my plant, and it takes close to 20 to make 4 finely-chopped tablespoons. Don’t have your own rosemary bush? Perhaps a neighbor or a friend does. They’ll likely trade all the rosemary you want for a plate of these gems.

Ingredients:

1 cup chilled butter

2 ½ + ½ cup flour

¾ cup sugar (if on hand, I prefer fine baker’s sugar for shortbread)

½ tsp salt

3 – 4 Tbs. finely-chopped fresh rosemary

Sift sugar, salt and 2 ½ cups of the flour into a mixing bowl. Add the finely chopped rosemary. Cut the chilled butter into cubes and blend with a pastry blender or two forks. The point is to cut as much of the butter into your dry ingredients before using your hands, which will warm the dough. Then use your hands to gently work the butter in until the dough resembles coarse meal. Once mixed, it should clump in your fist but easily break apart.

Rosemary-Flecked Shortbread Dough

 

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and have an ungreased cookie sheet ready.

Dust your work surface with a few tablespoons of the remaining flour. Form ¼ or so of the dough into a firm ball and press into the work surface. Sprinkle flour on as needed, making sure you keep a layer of flour under your dough or you’ll be scraping up cookies with a spatula. Now you need to get the dough to about ¼” to 3/8” thick. This dough would much rather break into a hundred pieces, so I use the heel of one hand to flatten it while using the fingers of the other to keep if from breaking apart.

Forming and Flattening

 

Almost Ready to Bake

Once flattened, finish it off with a rolling pin. Flour a cookie cutter or the lip of a small glass, cut as many cookies as you can, and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Add the scraps left on your work surface to another batch of fresh dough and repeat the process. Makes approximately 3 dozen 2″ cookies.

Kitchen Tip: My husband and I can polish off an entire batch of these in a couple of days. If I’m not making them to share, I force myself to freeze a cookie sheet of unbaked cookies, pack them in a Ziplock once they’re frozen hard. When it’s time for fresh-baked cookies, I put them back on a cookie sheet, defrost at room temperature for a couple of hours, and bake as usual.

The cookies will take from 25 – 40 minutes to bake depending on how thick they are and how accurately your oven keeps its 300 degree temperature. They should be firm to the touch in the center and have a hint of golden brown on the edges. In my own oven, they take about 35 minutes. I had the brilliant idea of baking this batch in an unfamiliar oven. After only 30 minutes, they were well on they’re way to nut brown. Stefano and I were forced to test one or two (okay, three!) just to make sure they were barbecue worthy. Seems like they’re going to be fine, but I may have to test another one or two to be sure. ; )

Rosemary Shortbread Cookies

As I mentioned earlier in the post, they go very well with red wine and make a nice finish to a hearty Italian meal. Friends of ours who generally don’t like dessert love these cookies. Enjoy, and, as always, I’d love to hear how they turn out.

P.S. The Great Crème Brulee Experiment

After last week’s Lavender Brulee, I was anxious to see how other herbed brulees would turn out. Made up a batch and divided into two parts, infusing one with rosemary and the other with lemon thyme. Divided each of those infusions into three parts to make six unique brulees:

Plain Rosemary

Sweetened Rosemary

Rosemary and Goat Cheese

Plain Thyme

Sweetened Thyme

Thyme and Goat Cheese

Then I forced Stefano,  our house guests, and my dear mother to taste each one. As you can see from the picture,

The Great Brulee Experiment

our preferences were nearly unanimous. Sweetened Rosemary was the favorite with the Rosemary Goat a close second. Even though I left the thyme infusing for twice as long as the rosemary, no one could pinpoint what flavor it was, and no one really liked it. (Stefano spit it directly into the trash.)  Dividing thickened eggs into 6 exact fraction-of-tablespoons portions is not so easy, and my proportions were not 100% accurate, making some taste a little eggier then others. Nonetheless, the Sweetened Rosemary Brulee was the hands-down favorite for dessert and the Rosemary Goat Cheese Brulee seemed like it would work well either as an appetizer or in place of a cheese course at the end of a meal, perhaps with apples or crisp pears… More experimentation is in order, and I hope to share the recipe with you soon.

If my computer finds its way home this week, then I’ll get busy on that Chilled Pasta Primavera recipe – perfect on such a hot summer’s day. If not… perhaps it’s time for a chewy loaf of Italian bread. Happy baking —

Ciao ciao ~