I was trying to avoid the inevitable question: “What do you want for dinner tonight?”
Usually, we bounce one or two ideas back and forth, and end up settling on the one that hasn’t been vetoed by either of us.
I was kinda in the mood for pasta (what else is new?), but really didn’t want traditional spaghetti or one of our variations, like (my fav) Puttanesca. I make a pretty decent rotini — you know, those cork screw macaronis — with mixed vegetables and olive oil and parmesan cheese for our “Meatless Mondays” dish. But tomato sauce or olive oil-based dishes just didn’t hit my appetite g-spot.
Flipping through some pasta ideas I had stored in the “Food” directory on my laptop (yeah, I actually save recipes I want to try), I ran across a traditional shrimp-pasta dish. It looked simple enough, and I think I might have even started to drool a little. “Yeah, this is it. Imma do this one.” So just as I was about to run up to the supermarket to pick up some shrimp, Jake calls on his way home from work with the usual question. I hit him with my idea, and he drops a bombshell. “I’m not crazy about shrimp…” What? I mean, I knew he didn’t like shrimp cocktail, but didn’t realize his distaste extended to all shrimp in general.
That was kinda a bummer; I was all pumped for some pasta, but Jake’s dislike of shrimp took all the wind out of my sails. So back to the drawing board. And it struck me: I could just modify the recipe, and substitute something else for the shrimp. Sweet Italian sausage came to mind. It’s a rich meat, like shrimp, although with its own distinct flavors.
And because the recipe was cream-based, it fit my earlier desire to avoid tomato sauce or olive oil. It would work for both of us. So after making a few quick changes, this is what I came up with.
It turned out pretty well — not overly savory, not too rich, and not too tomatoey. And, to top it off, Jake loved it. “Umm, yes, we need to make this one more often.”
So here it is. Try it when you want something just a little different.
One caveat: the recipe calls for heavy cream, which I didn’t have in my refrigerator. And my interest in running to the store had been quashed, so I substituted Half and Half, which I keep on hand for my morning coffee. I think the result was probably a little thinner than intended, but still pretty darn good. Oh, and it also calls for Sweet Vermouth, which depending on how well-stocked your liquor cabinet is, you may or may not have on hand. Vermouth is just a fortified wine — a wine flavored with botanicals or spices, and used mostly as an aperitif or to dilute the strength of higher proof liquors in classic cocktails like a martini or a manhattan. If you don’t have any available, you could just as easily swap it out for Sherry, Port or Marsala wine. They have a similar oaky sweet taste.
What you need
1/2 pound angel hair pasta (or thin spaghetti)
3 or 4 links of sweet Italian sausage (or hey, use 1 lb of shrimp as in the original version)
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
a couple of tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of dried sweet basil (or use oregano for a more earthy flavor)
1/2 cup sweet vermouth (or similar sweet wine)
1 can of diced tomatoes (14-15 oz)
3/4 cup heavy cream (I used Half and Half, but I wouldn’t try substituting milk)
Here’s what you do
First, cook up your whole Italian sausages. I precooked them in the microwave for about 8 minutes (they were frozen). Maybe I’m overcautious, but I like my pork cooked. Just saying.
While they’re cooking, bring about 6 quarts of water to boil for your pasta, and add 2-3 tablespoons of salt. (Pasta should always be cooked in salted water for flavor.)
Chop up your garlic and onions. You can use a garlic press if you have one.
When the sausage is done, using tongs and a sharp knife, slice the links into 1/4 – 1/2 inch pieces.
Grab a skillet, and heat up about 3 or 4 tablesppons of olive oil. Sprinkle in the basil, and add the chopped garlic and onion. Then slide in your precooked, sliced Italian sausage pieces. Cook until the garlic and onions turn golden, and sausages get a nice brown on the sides, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Stir in the vermouth, scraping up all the tasty brown stuff on the bottom of the pan, and add your diced tomatos. Then pour in your heavy cream, stir all together, and bring to a simmer. The sauce should thicken slighty after a minute or two, but don’t worry if it’s still a bit runny.
Your pasta should be done about now. You can test it by sampling a few strands to see if they’re the firmness you like. I prefer mine a bit over-done, softer than the traditional al dente. Using tongs, pull the pasta out of the water and mix directly into your skillet with the sauce. (The starch in the little bit of pasta water will help thicken your sauce.)
Turn off the heat to your skillet, and stir all the ingredients together until the pasta is well coated. Let sit a minute or two for all the flavors to blend.
Serve, and top with grated parmesan cheese if you like.
And that’s it. It’s just a spin on the classic spaghetti with Italian sausage, but the cream-vermouth sauce is a refreshing change from traditional spaghetti sauce or olive oil.
This one’s going into my regular Friday night dinner rotation.