The fact of the matter is, it’s warm enough to still be summer and close enough to pumpkin spice everything season to almost be fall, which means everyone is either going back to school or getting married. Everyone.
Let’s talk about how, even three years removed, it still feels unsettling to not be buying new plastic tubs and filling them up with sweaters I know I’ll never wear, and to not be making sure that my Swingers movie poster is still sturdy enough to endure another semester of sticky tack and humid dorm room walls.
Or maybe you’d like to sit on my couch with me, open a bottle of wine or (let’s be honest) skip straight to the bourbon and real talk about how another person is engaged, another acquaintance is sharing a Facebook album of finger rock shots and another 5-10 people are pretty positive that they’ll be in the midst of their own betrothal by Valentine’s Day 2015.
If you do decide to come over for ranting, raving and all around commiserating, I’ll probably make a batch of this pasta. And, for a moment, the nostalgia of dining hall nachos and the gleam of what’s-her-face’s princess cut will affect us not at all. Who knows where this recipe came from. It can be traced back to various turn of the Millennium online articles, but I have no real idea. I first experienced this form of transcendence during a simpler time (high school, when college was still an anticipatory dream and it was a big deal for people to be dating after three weeks) during a visit at my aunt’s house.
The recipe quickly made it into my mom’s own rotation. Over the years, it’s achieved a comfort food status that mashed potatoes only wish they could live up to. Home from college for winter break? Request this pasta. Birthday meal? This. Cooking for your boyfriend’s (meat eating) parents? A thousand times this. If you’re looking for a red sauce alternative that’s not fettucine alfredo or pesto, something a bit more complex that proves you don’t just eat a good game, but you can cook one too, this will serve you well.
You can add your own flourishes here and there or maybe sub-in a white meat sausage for the real thing (although I’d strongly recommend against it) or bring the heat level up a smidge with chili flakes but, honestly, there’s no damn need.
Kids will keep heading off to college and you will continue getting older and people around you will continue to post pictures of their engagement rings without getting a $15 manicure first. There’s nothing you can do to stop it.
But you can make this pasta. And for the hour or so it takes to make it, and however long you choose it eat it, you can take solace in knowing that:
a) No college freshman has the kitchen to pull off something like this, and
b) No bride-to-be has the cheat days or the flexibility to warrant this kind of indulgence.
Penne with Spicy Sausage Paprika Sauce
Makes 4-6 servings
2 tbsp fresh garlic, minced
1 tbsp shallot or onion, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb hot (or mild) Italian sausage (casings removed, unless you buy it ground)
2 tbsp sweet paprika
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 c chicken broth
1 ¼ cup heavy cream
1 lb penne
1/3 c scallions
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1/3 cup diced tomatoes
2 tsp dried basil
2 tsp dried oregano
In large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat, then add the garlic and shallot, simmering until the garlic is golden (don’t let it burn!) Add the sausage and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring to break up the larger pieces, until it’s all fully cooked and no longer pink. Toss in the paprika and cayenne and stir so all of the meat is coated. Stir in the chicken broth and simmer until liquid is reduced by about half, then mix in the cream and simmer on low until it reduces a little bit more.
At some point in the middle of the sausage process, start getting your pasta water going. Try to time it so the water is boiling by the time you’re ready to let the cream sauce simmer on its own. Cook the penne (or rigatoni) until al dente and drain. Combine the pasta with the sausage sauce (in whichever is larger, the pasta pot or the sauce skillet), and stir in the scallions, cheese, tomatoes, basil and oregano.
Eat for as many days/meals as you can make it last.