Saturday, December 18, 2010

Spicy Sausage and Mushroom Pasta Bake

I know this sounds like student food but please stick with me. I learnt (through experimentation) a couple of months ago how to make my own pasta sauce from scratch and so thought I'd stick it up here just in case anybody wanted to have a crack at it. I have to say if you use the right ingredients then its far better than your usual Ragu/Grossman overpriced jar of sugar and tomatoes. Its also really versatile so if you use this basic recipe as a guide you can add whatever extra herbs and sauces you want at the frying or the simmering stage.

What you see above is the starting blocks of the sauce. On the left is 4 cloves of garlic. On the right is loads of onion. Chop both of them down quite small as above then whack them all into a pile and start chopping them together as small as possible, if you had one those fancy herb rocker blades that would be wicked at this point. We on the other hand only have a shonky bent Ikea knife so it takes us some time. You will need to chop them until they are quite small but the critical moment when you know you have chopped them small enough is when plenty of liquid appears on your chopping board. As soon as you see all these juices start to appear get everything in to a warm oiled frying pan and start to cook. This is opportunity 1 to season. I always add salt, freshly ground black pepper, oregano as standard but as I was making a spicy dish I also added a Habanero hot sauce and some paprika. I let these cook on their own for a little while but you dont want to brown the onion. At this point there should already be a cracking smell in the air, if there isn't you must be doing it wrong or you have no nose. Once they were cooked through I added some quorn sausage and roughly chopped mushrooms with a little bit more seasoning and oil. Again you can add whatever you want at this point. Stick in chicken, whole fish, beef, peppers, cherry tomatoes, aubergines, courgette or really good sausage. This just needs browning off quickly in the pan, don't worry too much about cooking your recently added ingredients through as they will have plenty of time to slow cook.

Your next step is to add the saucy bit. I added a can of chopped tomatoes and a carton of passata but if you were making a pizza sauce you could just add the passata and you'd get a much richer paste by the end of the process. This is opportunity 2 to season. I always add salt, black pepper and loads of roughly torn up fresh basil but for this sauce I added more hot sauce, italian herbs and, for cosmetic reasons, dry parsley. The next step is quite easy. Sit back and watch it reduce. It will start out very liquid but after about 30 minutes simmering the sauce will come down to a nice thick rich consistency. If by any chance you get your sauce to the right thickness before your pasta is ready then just spoon a few bits of water from your boiling pasta, the starch will make your sauce thicken on standing (in a pleasant way).

So you have your sauce and your pasta ready now so you could just combine them together on the plate with a nice bit of fresh bread and go for it. In our case though we wanted to beef it up a bit so we combined the pasta and sauce, transferred them to an oven proof dish and then added a layer of mozzarella and black pepper before sticking it in the oven for 15 minutes.

Like I say its a really useful recipe to have under your belt as you will almost always have the basic ingredients of garlic, onion and tomoatoes in any house. Lovely stuff.

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