I hate snow. When it comes to the white stuff, I’m Scrooge all over.
Growing up in the Chicago area has done that to me. From fifth grade through high school I walked to school. In winter. In the snow. Barefoot. Uphill. Both ways.
There’s a good reason it’s called the Windy City. When it’s February and the temperatures are hovering in the single digits, the last thing you want to do is walk outside. Especially before 7 am.
The ground is frozen solid so the cold radiates up, turning toes into ice cubes that won’t melt until April. The air is glacial, causing everything from your nose to your lungs to grind to a frigid halt, making each small breath a chore. And that breath, when it’s finally exhaled, turns to ice crystals that tinkle at your feet in protest. Radio broadcasters warn that any body part that’s left uncovered for even a small amount risks frost bite.
But that’s just the cold. It has little to do with my snow hate. The snow hate comes from the fact that up in the Chicago area, it stays white for all of three minutes. As soon as it hits the ground it’s already tinged with gray and moments after settling, it’s dusted a nice black from all the engine exhaust. The snow hate comes from spending an hour shoveling my driveway and returning the shovel to the garage, only to see the snow plow dump three feet of ice burgs, effectively blocking me in until I spent the next two hours chiseling through.
I have a secret though. I become Dudette with the first snowflake of the season. Don’t tell anyone because maintaining that Scrooge-like demeanor is crucial. That one though. It’s entrancing. It’s magic. It keeps me up at night, peering through the window to see if the others following the first will stick and make a winter wonderland.
True, I like to watch that first snow from inside the house. True, I told Hubby when we were married that I would never, never hold a snow shovel again. But, the truth is also that no matter how much I really dislike snow, that first snow of the season is magical.
Magical too, is the meal that you offer family after they come in from playing out in snow. I imagine it to be something still steaming from the oven or stove. Something that’s labelled comfort food. Something that warms the heart and stomach as it goes down.
Something like this.
Sausage, pasta, cheese. In love already? You should be. This dish comes together fast, which makes it perfect for a quick, hearty dinner after spending the day running from one place to the other.
Start by browning sausage. Easy enough. When that’s done, add bell pepper (they called for yellow; I had red) and onion. When those veggies are soft, add garlic (cue Hallelujah Chorus over a magazine actually instructing us to add the garlic at the last minute), tomato paste, oregano, basil and pepper flakes. Cook briefly.
Add the wine (cue Hallelujah Chorus again; it’s wine) and scrape up anything stuck on the bottom. Cook until it’s just about evaporated (sob). Add tomatoes and a touch of sugar and simmer until everything is a bit thickened. Throw in a cup of water and the pasta; cover the pot and let it simmer until the pasta is tender and it’s helped thicken the sauce even more. That’ll take about 10 minutes.
Season the dish with salt and pepper, then spoon it into ramekins. Add the cheese on top and broil until bubbly and just starting to brown. Serve.
There will be sighs of contentment over this dish. It is comfort food. Dudette wasn’t too keen on the heat that the pepper flakes made, but the loved the flavor of the ragu. Hubby did as well (he finished the leftovers). I’ve always been a fan of this kind of dish so I knew I’d enjoy it. I liked the addition of the wine an awful lot. It adds a lot of body and depth considering this only takes about 30 minutes to make. It’s a keeper.
What I’d Do Different Next Time
For Dudette’s sake, I would hold off on adding the pepper flakes until after I spoon a serving without them into her ramekin. Since I’d be doing that, I’d make sure that after I do add the flakes, I let the ragu simmer for a minute before spooning the rest. .
12 ounces bulk Italian sausage
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup diced yellow bell pepper
3/4 cup diced onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup dry red wine, divided
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup water
8 ounces dry penne pasta
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 pound fresh Mozzarella, sliced
Chopped fresh basil, for garnish
Brown sausage in a large saute pan in oil over medium-high heat, five mintues. Add bell pepper and onion. Saute until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, tomato paste, oregano, basil and pepper flakes. Saute 1 minute.
Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup wine, then increase the heat to high and cook until the liquid is nearly evaporated. Stir in the tomatoes and sugar and simmer until thickened, 5-8 minutes.
Pour in the water and remaining 3/4 cup wine. Add the pasta. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender and the sauce thickens, approximately 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat the broiler and put the rack 6 inches from the element.
Divide the pasta between six individual ramekins and put the ramekins on a baking sheet. Top each dish with cheese. Broil until the cheese is bubbly and just beginning to brown.
Garnish each serving with basil if desired.
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