Family Cookbook, Lesson 2

It has been long enough since I last posted that I had to reset my password and re-sign into everything here!  Life, you know.  A few posts ago, I mentioned that my ex-husband needed to learn to cook so that he could survive on more than boxed mac and cheese and scrambled eggs.  He moved out of my house a few weeks ago and it’s time to post another instructive recipe to try, since he is settling into his own place.

Before he moved, I asked if he had any dinner requests one final time and this is the dish he named.  It’s a pasta dish with sausage, peppers and cheese.  I made it up, based on something I ate at a friend’s house once. We had planned to have fondue (the friends were fancy) but it went wrong- I think we may have started an actual kitchen fire!- and we had this dish instead.  It’s pretty easy to make and doesn’t need fancy ingredients and is relatively healthy, for a pasta dish. Plus, I love the ricotta salata cheese I use for it.

Pasta with Peppers, Onion and Sausage

Ingredients

1 box of ziti or rigatoni

1 to 3 bell peppers (I use one red, one orange, and one yellow but do to your taste)

1 sweet onion

3 to 6 sweet Italian sausage links (I almost always use chicken sausage but again, to your taste- it might also be good with a mix of sweet Italian sausage and spicy Italian sausage, your call)

1 to 2 Tablespoons of olive oil

Ricotta Salata cheese (how much depends on how much you like it.  I always use a healthy-sized wedge)

Grated Parmesan cheese for sprinkling over the top

*you will need a big pot to cook the pasta and a large-ish skillet to cook the veggies- it can all be mixed in at the end in either the pot or the skillet, whichever will hold all of it

Directions

This dish takes a bit of prep chopping work.  But don’t let that deter you- it’s actually not that time-consuming.

First, fill a pot with water (pasta cooks by absorbing the water so you want a lot), add a good amount of salt and set it to boil. Once it’s boiling, add your pasta and cook to your liking (8-10 minutes is the standard instruction on the box, some people like a little over or under that).

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Next, chop up your veggies.  I always start with the onion.  Peel it and cut off the ends (yes, I know this is not the “professional” way to do it but it works for me).  Slice it in half and then slice those halves into strips.  Heat the skillet over medium high heat and add the olive oil (enough to coat the pan but not enough to deep fry anything).  Add the sliced onion and let them cook while you chop the other vegetables, stirring occasionally.  Try to keep an eye and a nose on them as you want them to soften and brown a bit but not burn.  If they do start to burn, take the pan off the heat immediately and stir them to try to keep them moving.

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While the pasta is boiling and the onions are, well, onion-ing, get your peppers ready.  There are a million ways to chop up a bell pepper.  I slice off the top and pull out the seeds and membranes.  Then I cut it in half, cut it into strips, and cut the strips into chunks.

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Finally, cube your cheese.  I make slices and then cut them into relatively same-size cubes.  Ricotta Salata is a drier, firmer kind of cheese- a bit like feta- so it’s easier to cut up than softer cheeses.

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Are you checking your onions and your pasta?  If your pasta is done, drain it but be sure to reserve about 1/2 of a cup of the pasta water.

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Time to work on the sausage.  When shopping, if you can find sweet Italian sausage patties, not in casings, that makes this next step easier. My store doesn’t always have them so this is my trick for getting them out of the casing. There are two ways.  You can use a sharp knife to make a slit down the middle of the casing and then peel it off.

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Or (and this is my preferred method despite how gross/slightly phallic it looks) you can grab the sausage in the middle and squeeze out each end, like you might a tube of toothpaste.

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Once you have them emptied out (you can dispose of the casings in your compost or trash), add the sausage to the pan with the onions.  Break it up into chunks with the back of a spoon or spatula.  Let it brown up and cook down. If you’re using chicken sausage, you may need to add a splash more olive oil to the pan as the chicken has less fat than pork and may stick to the pan.

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Once the sausage is brown, add the peppers.

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Let them all cook together for about five to eight minutes over medium heat- you want the peppers to soften a bit but not get mushy.  Just before you take it off the heat, add the ricotta salata cheese and stir it around a bit, just enough to warm the cheese but not melt it.  Again, because of the hard, dry cheese aspect, ricotta salata won’t melt as quickly as other cheeses.  Or at all, really.

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Finally, you’re going to add this to your pasta or add your pasta to this- depends on which pan/pot is larger. Mix it around and if it seems too dry, add a bit of the reserved pasta water.  Start with about a 1/4 cup and stir.  If it still seems not well coated, add the rest.  Basically, you want the pasta to be coated with the yummy sausage/veggie flavor but this is not a dish that has a “true” sauce.

Sprinkle some Parmesan cheese over the top and boom, done.

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