Your lockdown preparations involved boxes and boxes of pasta, untold cans of tomatoes, and bags of potatoes, onions, and carrots — stuff that you can keep for a while. By now you really need to perk things up a bit. Do you have some garlic on hand? Good. And there’s a green pepper hidden in the fridge behind that wilted … what is that stuff? I see some parmesan cheese, and is that a tin of anchovies? Best Used By dates don’t matter. Check your spice cabinet. Basil? Crushed red pepper? Good.
What!? I see someone put a jar of Prego prepared tomato sauce in your cabinet. Throw it out and call a security company before someone starts putting commercial pimiento cheese in your fridge and sneaking sugar into your corn meal.
Here we go —
Crushed red pepper
Whole black peppercorns
Three or so anchovies. I know, I know. You don’t like anchovies. These will dissolve, with some heat and a bit of pressure from a fork, and there will be no anchovy flavor in the finished sauce. There will, however, be an extra layer of richness. Honest. Don’t believe me? Okay, skip the anchovies.
3/4th pound of Italian sausage sliced into 3/8th inch rounds. You can, of course, use more or less sausage, but 3/4 pounds is what I use. Actually, you can skip the sausage altogether and have a vegetarian version if you like.
1 cup or so each of onion, bell pepper or cored jalapeño pepper, and carrots, each cut to about the same dimensions — maybe a quarter inch dice on the carrots. If you’re using less meat, add some more vegetables, or maybe some mushrooms. The carrots are important. You need your vegetables.
At least 4-5 good sized cloves of garlic, chopped
Two or three bay leaves
Two 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
Parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
Heat a large heavy pot over moderate heat, add a layer of olive oil, a couple of shakes of crushed red pepper or to taste, about 10 whole black peppercorns, and the anchovy filets.
Smash the anchovy filets a bit to help them disintegrate.
As the anchovies dissolve, raise the heat and add the sausage in batches so that each is separated. Brown each sausage round, remove and reserve.
Lower the heat back to medium.
Add the vegetables to the pot and stir, using the liquid released by the vegetables to deglaze the pan. Cook the vegetables, stirring occasionally, until they’re about to wilt.
Add the garlic and stir into the vegetables. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking until the garlic starts to turn tender. Add some olive oil if necessary.
Add the sausage and stir to mix.
Add two bay leaves. Do not stir.
Add two 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes. Now stir gently to mix.
Cook over a low-medium-low heat, just enough to keep a light simmer, for an hour or two.
Add some basil, stir it in, and cook for at least 10 more minutes.
Reduce the heat to low, and cook your pasta while you grate the parmesan or pecorino romano cheese.
The serving procedure here is pretty obvious. I always add several grinds of black pepper, maybe some salt, and lots of crushed red pepper. I always top it with a good bit of cheese, and usually forget to toss it a bit and add some more cheese so that the cheese blends in throughout.
You’ll also want a salad, of course, preferably a salad with local arugula, not the flavorless kind that comes in a box. I like to shave some parmesan cheese on the salad when serving this sauce.
You’ll have a lot left over, especially now when you can’t invite people over for dinner. (You may, however, be able to set up your front porch so that you can enjoy a glass of wine with another couple while maintaining a social distance.) The sauce will keep for a while, and it freezes beautifully. When reheating it, I usually sauté a little garlic in olive oil before adding the sauce to the pan, and add a little fresh basil or parsley, if available. Oh, and the sauce can really perk up a meatball or Italian sausage sandwich.
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