Wright’s Smoked Sausage and Leek Orecchiette

sausage and leek pasta
I’m here to proclaim my love for a particular brand of sausage.  No one is paying me, I’m just that fanatic about it.  If you try it, you will feel the same way.  Wright’s has been making amazing pork products for years.  We first fell in love with their peppered, thick-cut bacon a few years back when our friend, John, made these amazing bacon wrapped jalapenos for a company party and said, “The secret is Wright’s!”  Just a couple months ago we noticed their line of ground sausage.  They have a regular, hot and spicy, sage and smoked.  The smoked is astoundingly good.  I can’t adequately describe it so I’ll just say – go buy it and put it in everything from eggs, to pizza to pasta to your sausage gravy and you will not only gain at least ten pounds at the end of your quest, but you will be happier.  At least that’s how it happened to me.

I created this little pasta dish with ground smokey sausage, sauteed leeks and crushed red pepper.  A pretty classic combination but with that smokey sausage, it takes it to a new level.  The orecchiette pasta was perfect for holding little bits of sausage and leek – this is a fast dinner that is completely satisfying and easy to throw together after work.  After you try this sausage, you will keep one on hand at all times.

leek and sausage pasta

Smokey Sausage and Leek Orecchiette
serves 4-6

8 oz orecchiette pasta, or any short and broad pasta
2 medium sized leeks, cleaned, halved and chopped into 1/4″ strips (about 2 cups of leeks)
8 oz Wright’s Smoked Sausage
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup leftover pasta water after boiling
crushed red pepper flakes

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. (More salt than you think – for a gallon pot, I’d say at least 1/4 cup of salt.  I know – the pasta is flavored by it, it doesn’t absorb it all.  Your pasta will be good enough to eat plain.) Add the pasta and cook to the package directions – usually 12-15 minutes until al dente.  While the pasta water is coming to a boil and while the pasta cooks, cook the sausage, leaving in moderate sized chunks, until cooked through.  Drain the sausage on paper towels and drain off all but a tablespoon of the grease and saute the leeks until  starting to color on the edges.  Then, add a splash of water, cover, and let steam for 10 minutes until soft.
Add the cooked pasta to the leeks and fold in the sausage.  Add the cheddar cheese and stir till melted.  Then add the 1/2 cup of pasta water and stir until fully incorporated and everything is smooth (pasta water is an instant sauce-maker for pasta.)  Garnish with crushed red pepper and serve!  The baby ate this UP.

 

Palmer House Ragu

Palmer Ragu
Matt and I first read about homemade ragu in the book, Heat, by Bill Buford.  The section on ragu was about Mario Batali and his story of his own family’s obsession with their homemade bolognese sauce, or, ragu.  He said every Italian family had one, and each family was so fiercely defensive and prideful about their ragu recipe, that some men even seriously considered a woman as marriage material or not, based on the quality of her version.  Though the section was a bit humorous, I really felt that this was a dish with a history and a soul and an identity.  No two people can make the same ragu, and so each person should work on perfecting their own to their own liking!

Matt and I consulted an online recipe years ago when we made ragu the first few times.  This time, Matt said, “Let’s not consult anything.  We know how it goes; let’s do our own.”  So we did!  It was really fun to create our own concoction and add a little of this and a little of that till we thought it tasted “right.”  A pretty good description in Heat of the proper way to cook a ragu is simple:  “Take a liquid and a solid and cook it till it’s neither.”

So I’ll give you our now-official family ragu recipe.  I encourage you to come up with your own as you go!  Make a huge batch and freeze for later – you won’t be sorry. You can thaw it easily in a skillet with a little beef stock.  This stuff is great saucy or thick.  We like ours super chunky and less liquidy, so we let it verge on the dry side.  Matt made potato gnocchi to go with it, but we’ve done every noodle you can imagine, and my personal favorite is a nice, wide fettuccine noodle.  Garnish with shaved Parmesan and serve with a hearty glass of red and you’ll be so good you won’t know what to do with yourself.

potato gnocchi Palmer Ragu Night

Palmer House Ragu

3 tbs butter or olive oil
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced celery
2 cups diced onion*
1 lb ground beef (85%/15%)
1 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground sausage
1 cup white wine
1 cup whole milk
1-28 oz can diced tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp oregano
a few gratings of whole nutmeg
pasta of your choice

*it’s important to try to make all your vegetables the same size dice so that they all cook and break down at the same rate.  We keep everything at about a 1/4″ dice.

In a large stockpot (I adore my Lodge ceramic dutch oven.  Half the cost of Le Creuset and just as good), over medium heat, add the butter and cook until it starts bubbling.  Then, add in the carrots, celery and onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften.  Add in the meats and stir well to incorporate with the vegetables.  Cook until most of the pink is gone, but not all.  Add in the wine and bring to a simmer and cook until most of the liquid is gone.  Do the same with the milk.  After the milk is cooked off, add in the diced tomatoes and stir well to incorporate.  Add about a teaspoon of kosher salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper and let that sucker cook all afternoon.  We let ours bubble away for about 3 hours and as it cooks, I randomly come stir it, ladle off the fat that starts to separate so that the finished result won’t be too greasy.  Really, you can’t  cook this too long.  You can cook it too fast, but if it starts to dry out, simply add some water or beef stock and keep stirring.  When you like the look of it, add in the oregano and nutmeg and season again with salt to taste.  Let it cook another 30 min or so to let the flavors develop.  Serve over freshly boiled pasta (long noodles are the best) with shaves of Parmesan and a few shakes of crushed red pepper.  That’s how we roll, anyway.  Enjoy and mix it up however you like!  The secret is in the long cook time.  It’s amazing what a few ingredients will do together, over time!