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.
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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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.