Last night, I spent an unwilling half an hour playing freezer Tetris, trying to fit more lamb’s liver than I’d like to say around boxes of mini Magnums and bags of chicken stock. So when it came to supper, I wasn’t prepared to give my time to standing over a stove. Enter: perfect sausage pasta.
It’s hard to articulate quite how much I love this dish. It has everything I want from a big bowl of pasta: it’s rich and winey and meaty, but also just the right amount of creamy and comforting without being too hevay for a late-June dinner; most importantly it’s pretty hands-off, which is my number one criterion for a weeknight supper when I’m busy and tired and covered in liver.
The onions are cooked down ever so slowly in butter with balsamic and thyme and sugar until soft and golden brown and then mixed with crumbled sausage meat. A slug of red wine or port deglazes the pan and then is joined by tomatoes and a pinch of rosemary, left to blip away until thick and unctuous. At the last moment, creme fraiche is stirred in. I’ve tried this dish with creme fraiche, cream and yoghurt; all are gorgeous and will work well, but I like the sourness that creme fraiche lends, cutting through the sweetness of the onions and sausage meat. The sauce clings to the ridges of the rigatoni, with crumbs of soft, fragrant sausage, and tangles of dark onions.
This dish has a comparatively long ingredients list for a simple supper, but after you’ve chopped a single onion, it’s essentially an assembly job, that will sit quite happily away whilst you drink wine or browse the asos sale or watch the new season of Orange is the New Black. Or, in my case, all three.
This dish really takes as long to cook as you are willing to give it: sometimes, when I’m pottering around the kitchen doing other things, I’ll leave the onions to cook for a whole hour, even two, and it is better for it, the final sauce slightly more developed and complex. But more often than not, I’ll throw them in the pan before I shower and change, and take them off the heat when I’m dressed. Last night, I’d planned to serve supper when Sam got home, but he wanted to mow the lawn, and it sat without trouble on the lowest possible heat for another forty minutes. Make this dish work around you.
It goes like this:
Makes: 2 very generous portions plus one lucky person’s lunch
Takes: 35 minutes to 2 hours depending on how much time you want to give it
Bakes: 30 minutes to 2 hours, as above
1 large onion
1 tablespoon of oil
1/2 teaspoon of thyme
1/2 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
1/2 tablespoon of light brown sugar
100 ml of red wine
1 tin of plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons of tomato puree
1/2 teaspoon of rosemary
3 tablespoons of creme fraiche or plain yoghurt
250g of the fattest rigatoni you can find
1. Slice a large onion into the thinnest slivers you can manage. Place in a wide pan on the lowest heat possible with butter and oil and thyme and sugar and balsamic. Leave to cook gently for a whole hour, if you can. If you’re pushed for time, the onion will be soft and delicious after twenty minutes. Occasionally stir the onion if you happen to be passing through the kitchen.
2. Set the cooked onion to one side on a plate and turn the heat up to medium high on the pan. Cook the sausage meat (having released them from their skins) until slightly browned, breaking the meat up with your spoon or spatula as you go.
3. Deglaze the pan with a splash of port or red wine. Return the onions to the pan and introduce a tin of plum tomatoes, squashing each tomato with your hands (wear an apron! This will spray even the most careful of cooks), and add the tomato puree and the rosemary. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat; allow to stew for 30 minutes, if you have them, but ten will do in a pinch.
4. Follow the instructions on your chosen pasta, but roughly fifteen minutes before the sauce will be ready, you should be boiling a kettle for the pasta.
5. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it, and return to the pan. Stir three tablespoons of creme fraiche through the sauce, and pour the sauce over the pasta, tossing gently to coat it thoroughly. Serve immediately, spooning out any sauce that clings to the bottom of the pan.
6. Ta Dah!
Icing on the cake
We ate this with an unconscionable amount of parmesan and a little side salad of diced tomatoes and pink pickled onions. It was, as the name suggests, perfect.