A Good Dinner

fusilli with sausage

It was not at all the dinner I had conjured in my mind as I was flying home from a four-day conference in Chicago. That dinner, the one in my head, involved homemade pasta, beautiful golden egg noodles dressed with a nice long-cooked sugo, possibly a homemade tart for dessert. It would be my way of reminding my family how happy they were to have me back after four whole days away.

Four days isn’t that long to be gone from one’s family, but even as I enjoyed lunches and dinners out with colleagues and friends I saw myself back in my own kitchen, dusting the countertops with handfuls of semolina, cranking out the smooth strips of dough, stirring the sauce as it bubbled gently on the stovetop, the pork fat melting into the tomatoes, the rich aroma infusing the whole house. I was even wearing a crisp white apron ~ironed, no less! ~ and without a spatter on it. Family members wandered in, breathing in deeply, appreciatively. At the table, we talked and twirled in unison.

No, that is not how dinner went down. Things got in the way. Note dumping, follow-up emails, unpacking, laundry, dog-walking, kid chauffeuring, the writing deadline I had left behind and had to resume. One kid, after being picked up, had to be shuttled back to school for a late softball practice. The other, after tennis practice, retreated to his room with his monstrously heavy backpack.

sausage and cream sauce

I cobbled dinner from the pantry: chicken sausages and peas from the freezer, a packet of somewhat tired but still usable sage from the fridge, cream (thankfully) not past its due date, a tube of tomato paste I picked up at Eataly Chicago.

No doubt you know the punch line; the pasta was a hit. Even my 17-year-old, the grazer who hardly ever finishes anything (unless it is a giant platter of sushi), put away a big dish, a nice dish, as I like to say (after my mother), though he did leave a few peas orphaned in the bottom of his bowl. My daughter, ravenous after softball, also had a generous helping at about 9 p.m., while my husband and I shared a glass of wine and kept her company. So yeah, it was just dinner. But it was a good dinner.

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Join me for a culinary tour of Abruzzo ~ nine magical days in Italy’s most spectacular, undiscovered region. Hands-on cooking classes included! Two dates: June 22-30, 2014 and September 21-29, 2014. Click here for details.

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Makes 4 to 6 servings

Fusilli with Sausages, Peas and Crispy Sage

This is a simple weeknight pasta dish, made from pantry ingredients; and yet it's something more. A splash of wine and a touch of tomato paste give the sauce depth, and cream enriches it. The garnish of fried sage leaves is optional, but I love the woodsy, almost artichokey flavor that it imparts.


  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, lightly crushed
  • 4 cooked chicken sausages (I used spinach-feta), quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise into small wedges
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • A small handful of sage leaves
  • 1 pound dried fusilli
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-low heat. Scrape in the onions and garlic and cook, stirring often, until the onion is softened and just beginning to turn golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in the sausage pieces and cook, again stirring often, until they are lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

Raise the heat to medium-high and pour in the wine. Cook at a lively simmer for about 2 minutes, until the wine has mostly evaporated. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the tomato paste and chicken broth. Cook until somewhat reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the peas and cream, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 5 minutes, or until thickened and heated throughout. Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm. (Reheat briefly while the pasta is cooking if necessary.)

In a small skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Carefully drop in the sage leaves and fry them until they are crisped. This shouldn't take more than 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the crisped sage leaves with a slotted spoon and set them on a paper towel-lined plate.

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt it generously. Cook the pasta according to the manufacturer's instructions until al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander set in the sink, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot and spoon most of the sauce over it. Sprinkle in a small handful of parmigiano and toss gently but thoroughly. Add a splash or two of pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce.

Spoon the dressed sauce into individual bowls and garnish each serving with crispy sage leaves. Pass more cheese at the table.


24 Responses to A Good Dinner

  1. Rosa Mayland March 20, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    My kind of dish! Absolutely scrumptious.



  2. Sippitysup March 20, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    I call this process ‘default pasta’ on my blog. I mean that in the most delicious way possible as I rely on it at least once a week. GREG

    • Domenica Marchetti March 20, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

      Yes, that’s a great name for it Greg. I’ve read your default pasta posts. TGFPasta, right?

  3. Marilena L. March 20, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

    Aren’t these meals the best? Making something delicious out of what you have in your pantry and your fridge! I am sure they are all happy to have you back Domenica!


    • Domenica Marchetti March 20, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

      I’m just going to assume that they are and not ask Marilena 😉

  4. elisa March 20, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    Andare via da casa alle volte ci vuole, ma tornarci e’ piu’ bello. The pasta dinner looks absolutely delicious and it was!

  5. cheri March 20, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

    What a beautiful post, your dinner looks amazing!

  6. ciaochowlinda March 20, 2014 at 11:39 pm #

    I’d say you came up with a winner – even without the homemade pasta or the crisp, white apron. I’d be happy to sit down to a dinner like that anytime.

  7. Phyllis @ Oracibo March 21, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    You gotta do what you gotta do…and surprise it’s delicious! I tell my husband that I could make pasta sauce out of an old boot and it would be delicious! Thank goodness for frozen peas and sausage…a life saver!

    • Domenica Marchetti March 22, 2014 at 8:57 am #

      Linda, I have a pair of 20+ year old Bean boots. I’ll bet they would make delicious sauce! 😉 And yes, love those frozen peas. Countless uses.

  8. italyonmymind March 21, 2014 at 4:51 pm #

    My dear 86 year old mamma always has frozen peas and salsicce in the freezer ready for occasions when they might be needed for pasta or a risotto. Still the same after more than 60 years – wonderful how classical good food doesn’t need to change !

    • Domenica Marchetti March 22, 2014 at 8:57 am #

      Bless your mamma, Paola. My mother will turn 90 in a few days. We are so lucky to still have them with us.

  9. bettyannq @Mango_Queen March 22, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

    I would love to come home to a big bowl of this Fusilli with Sausages and Peas after a long trip. It was great to see you at the IACP14, Domenica ! Thanks for sharing this recipe. I’ve bookmarked it. This is the kind of meal my family will enjoy. Take care!

  10. MB March 22, 2014 at 11:39 pm #

    I’m so impressed… When things get that crazy at House Morell, we end up with Chipotle :). I think this would be a huge hit! Thanks for the inspiration!

  11. Frank Fariello March 27, 2014 at 8:30 am #

    A *very* nice dinner, I’d say. And it’s true how these easy dishes are often the ones that have the most appeal.

  12. Laura Tabacca March 31, 2014 at 12:33 am #

    Looks wonderful! Pinned!

  13. Adri March 31, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    I am a bit late to the party on this post. Somehow I had missed it. A crisp white ironed apron, huh? THOSE were the days… I have to say that so often the quick dinners are the best, maybe because they stem directly from our best, our real strengths as cooks – the organic stuff we really know. I am not sure, but it sounds like a “nice” plate of pasta, indeed.

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