Having just spent a wonderful few days in New Orleans, I'm refreshed and full of lots of ideas. The food there was stupendous, of course: red fish, black drum, banana praline bread pudding--well, you get the idea. All that, plus hanging out with some of the best people the world has to offer: urban librarians. Talk about a happy break full of lots of interesting ideas.
Anyway, back at home I seem to have adopted my own attitude of the "Big Easy," in other words, with minimal effort, getting something on the table that satisfies the teenaged carnivore, and, well, everyone else too.
This particular dish goes back to Felix's first visit as a tiny boy to Mama Zu, the fabulous Oregon Hill eatery right here in Richmond. It commemorateshis delight in encountering orecchiette.
There was something about the shape of the pasta that delighted him. Then, when he heard that what he thought looked like flying saucers were, in fact, named for ears, well, you can imagine his unbridled enthusiasm. The fact that it tasted marvelous was just the proverbial icing on the cake.
The Mama Zu original is enriched with a big dollop of ricotta cheese which actually, is a little too rich for my taste. Therefore, a stripped-down version, sans ricotta, has long been a family favorite for those more frenetic-than-usual days. Of course, it is divine when prepared with proper homemade tomato sauce, but it's very good made by merely opening the best jar of spaghetti sauce you can find. Using that technique, it is so easy that nowadays even Felix can prepare it if he has a mind to. I must remember to tell him that once he's at college and trying to impress people--should I say, girls?--with his culinary abilities, that there's really no reason to let on that it's a three-ingredient wonder.
Orechiette with Sweet Italian Sausage
1 lb. sweet Italian sausages, sausage casings slit and removed
1 lb. dried orechiette pasta
1 32 ounce jar of "good" Italian pasta sauce (preferably made with San Marzano tomatoes)
1/2 cup ricotta cheese (optional)
3 tablespoons Italian flat leafed parsley, coarsely chopped
Parmesan Reggiano cheese for serving
Place a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta
In a large skillet, saute sausages, breaking them up into bite-sized pieces as they cook. When they are fully cooked, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon leaving the fat behind and combine the sausage with the spaghetti sauce in a medium-sized saucepan. Allow sauce to simmer while you cook the pasta according to directions.
Just before pasta is ready, add ricotta cheese to the sauce (if you would like to), and stir to combine making a thick pink sauce.
Drain pasta and place in a large pasta bowl. Pour sausage sauce over and mix well to combine. Serve garnished with fresh parsley and pass parmesan cheese.
Serve this to your hungry hoards, and if you don't think this is the "Big Easy", you definitely need a vacation. Should that be the case, might I suggest New Orleans as your destination? And if you go, do you know what's wrong with beignets? Nothing.