By nature, ragù is an Italian meat-based sauce commonly served with pasta, cooked for a long time and also featuring liquid, which varies by region. This sausage pasta recipe isn’t a traditional ragù by any means, but it borrows elements from various iterations to produce a bastardised version that’s simple to cook, taking only 40 minutes as opposed to hours of slow-cooking. It also champions the humble sausage.
With a wide range of national and regional varieties, differing by ingredients and preparation methods, sausages are a common feature of the UK’s national diet, essential in dushes such as the Full English breakfast, toad in the hole, or bangers and mash. Nonetheless, many readily available sausages are magnificently awful. The UK’s leading brand, for instance, features just 42 percent pork, which is the minimum amount required by law in order for sausages to be called ‘pork sausages’. The rest of the sausage is filled with stabilisers, preservatives, and antioxidants used for food safety and to extend the products’ shelf-life, without a single thought reserved for the flavour. The result is a pink slurry encased within a thin, synthetic skin. It’s an insult to the art form, regarded as a key skill for any good butcher, anywhere in the world.
For this sausage pasta recipe, I’m particularly fond of Italian sausages, commonly made with pure pork, often available in three common varieties – hot, sweet, or mild. Given the choice, a mixture of hot and sweet works well here, but any Italian sausage will work fine. They’re almost always available from Italian delis, and even in some supermarkets. In the worst case scenario, where Italian sausages are unavailable, a reasonable substitute can be made by combining approximately 600 grams of sausage meat with a pinch of salt, two tablespoons of Italian seasoning, two teaspoons of sugar, one teaspoon of ground fennel seed, and ½ teaspoon smoked or sweet paprika. As for the pasta, fresh is best if possible. I like penne or fusilli for this recipe, but the recipe is highly adaptable to taste and preference.
- 600 g Italian sausages* see notes for alternative
- 500 g pasta such as penne or fusilli
- 2 tsp red chilli flakes
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds
- Rapeseed oil or other cooking oil
- 250 ml white wine
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 lemon
- 200 g butter cubed
- Parmesan cheese to taste
- Small bunch flat-leaf parsley chopped
- Sea salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Fill a pan with water to cook the pasta, add a good pinch of salt, cover, and bring to the boil.
- In a separate saucepan or large frying pan, add the chilli flakes and fennel seeds and cook over a low heat for a few minutes, shaking or stirring almost constantly to prevent burning. Once the fennel smells strong, quickly remove the chilli and fennel from the pan to a bowl or plate and set aside.
- In the same pan, heat a tablespoon of oil and add the sausage meat. If using sausages, remove the skins before adding to the pan. Cook over medium-high heat, using a masher or wooden spoon to break into small pieces, somewhere between minced meat and small meatballs. Stir occasionally until lightly browned, around 5 minutes. The sausages will stick to the pan a little, but that’s absolutely fine at this point.
- Once lightly browned, add the toasted chilli flakes and fennel seeds to the pan and stir to combine. Cook for another few minutes until the sausage meat is browned, then slowly pour the wine into the pan and keep stirring to deglaze the pan. Decrease the heat to medium-low and continue cooking until the wine has reduced by 2/3.
- From adding the wine to the pan, the rest of the cooking process will take around 10 minutes, so plan accordingly so your pasta is ready at the same time. If the sausage mixture is cooked before the pasta, simply remove from the heat and keep warm.
- Add the pasta to the pan of boiling water and cook according to packet instructions. Dried pasta is fine, but I much prefer fresh pasta, which also cooks far quicker.
- Meanwhile, add the dried oregano to the pan with the sausages and wine, plus the zest and juice of one lemon. Stir and continue cooking on low heat until reduced to an ideal consistency.
- Once the pasta is cooked al dente, drain and reserve the cooking water.
- Add the cooked pasta to the pan with the sausages and stir well to combine, continuing to cook over the lowest heat.
- Quickly add the butter, chopped parsley, parmesan, and a ladleful of the pasta cooking water and keep stirring until well combined and the butter and cheese has melted.
- Serve with an additional handful of grated or shaved parmesan, plus a good crack of black pepper.
- If Italian sausages are unavailable, a reasonable substitute can be made by combining approximately 600g sausage meat with a pinch of salt, 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning, 2 teaspoons white sugar, 1 teaspoon ground fennel seed, and ½ teaspoon smoked or sweet paprika.
- The chilli flakes can also be scaled up or down, to taste.
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