As I love France, I love Italy. Ardently, eternally and equally. The food of true Italy is like the food of true France – comforting, filling, artisanal and hearty. And nothing (except perhaps a simple, classic Bolognese) epitomizes these characteristics more than Gramigna (a curly pasta) with Wine Braised Sausage. I’ve been recently introduced to this dish in the marvelous cookbook “The Splendid Table” by Lynn Rosetto Kasper. And it’s so good I have to share it with you here (although I’ve condensed the instructions a bit due to the need for brevity, despite Kasper’s excellent writing style).
1-1 ½ pounds mild Italian sausage
1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
6 tablespoons Italian parsley, minced
3 tablespoon carrot, minced (1 small/medium carrot)
1 large clove of garlic, minced
3 large fresh sage leaves
Pinch of cloves (Kasper calls for a generous pinch)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
1 pound fresh tomatoes or 1 14-16 oz. can with liquid
1.) Brown the sausage, stirring often. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
2.) If there are excess drippings, pour out all but 1 tablespoon. Then add the olive oil, onion, carrot and parsley and cook until golden brown.
3.) Add the sausage, garlic and sage and cook another 2 minutes.
4.) Add cloves, tomato paste and half the wine. Simmer until wine is evaporated, 8-10 minutes.
5.) Add remaining wine and tomatoes and simmer another 10 minutes.
To serve this sauce classically, serve it over gramigna pasta. But as Kasper notes, you can serve it in the style of Modena/Reggio/Parma by serving over ziti or penne rigate (which virtually every store in the world carries now).
A few notes:
1.) I made this dish successfully with half an onion – I believe that onion is a flavoring agent that can be altered to taste, so if you like it immensely use the entire onion, but if you’re neither here nor there on onion, half will suffice.
2.) I used dried parsley in it when I made it because I forgot (yes, forgot – it was a really long day at work) that I have a pot of fresh parsley in the windowsill. The dish didn’t suffer because of it, but fresh flavors are always better than preserved, so use the fresh when you can.
3.) Same thing with the sage – I used dried, but this time not because I forgot I have a plant, but it’s because I actually don’t currently grow fresh sage. I should, I know. It’s on next spring’s planting list for sure. Again, it didn’t detrimentally detract from the dish, but I bet the flavors would really pop with the real deal.
4.) As mentioned in the recipe, Kasper calls for a generous pinch of cloves. For us Americans who are used to using certain spices (such as cloves) primarily as baking ingredients, it’s a learning curve to understand how their flavor profiles work in savory cooked dishes. Cloves are spicy. Keep this in mind as you’re determining the actuality of “pinch” when cooking in your own kitchen.
5.) I used fire-roasted diced canned tomatoes when I made this, and I suppose it depends on what flavor profile you’re looking for when deciding which type of tomatoes to use. The fire-roasted were quite nice and smoky.
6.) My pasta of choice was rigatoni which is a larger, squatter version of penne rigati, with straight ends rather than tapered. It’s the pasta I most often have on hand in the dried version, and I find that it’s well suited to meaty, ragu-type sauces – it holds onto the sauce well, and the sauce finds its way inside of the noodle, so you get lots of flavor and body.
It’s a wonderful dish – its light, yet the flavors are warm and autumnal. Perfect for the in-between season of summer and fall. And to promote Kasper’s book even more (which I just love), she suggest menus, variations and wine pairings for each dish. As far as wine pairing is concerned, she recommends red wines such as young Barberas or Sangiovese from the Emiliga-Romagna region, or a young Chianti Classico from Tuscany. I was surprised to see a red wine pairing with a dish cooked with white wine, but it makes sense considering the warm, full flavors that the sauce has. I drank it with both an unrecommended Washington State cabernet sauvignon and a Washington State chardonnay, which were good pairings, but not outstanding. Truth be told, the chardonnay was a bit much (despite the fact that it’s what I cooked with). I’m anxious to try it with a Chianti or Barbera (which will be a new wine tasting for me) and see how much the flavors pop and meld.
As far as the book is concerned, a few other dishes have caught my eye – Ragu per li Maccheroni Appasticciati (The Cardinal’s Ragu) which is cubed skirt or chuck blade steak seasoned with cinnamon and a meat stock with no vegetables, and the Ragu degli Appennini (Game Ragu) which is a sauce made of game, a mire poix of vegetables, red wine and seasoned with cinnamon and cloves. I’d like to try it with the venison and/or wild boar. There are a multitude of other recipes I’d like to try beyond meat sauces, including Ravioli Dolci di Paola Bini (Paola Bini’s Sweet Ravioli), a dessert ravioli with a filling of apples, pears, butternut squash and raisins, and seasoned with grape syrup, citrus zests, and Strega liquor, among other things.