Italian sausages are very special as they tend to be made with a combination of fresh pork and cured, so they have the addition of fennel seed, nutmeg and other seasonings. This gives them huge amounts of flavour so they are perfect to use in a pasta sauce.
I will never forget the time I had a plate of very fine tagliarini tossed with butter, tiny new season peas and crumbled sausage on top. It was at a restaurant in the heart of Valpolicella called Groto de Corgnan in Sant' Ambrogio di Valpolicella.
The combination of the egg yolk-enriched pasta with the tiny sweet peas was made even more special by this almost salami-like sausage that was scattered over the top of the pasta like a substitute for parmesan. It was one of the best things I have ever eaten and every time I think of using Italian sausage in a recipe it is the first dish that comes to mind.
Penne rigate with Italian sausage, swiss chard and fresh chilli
Serves 4 starters or 2 main course portions
300g penne rigate
200g Italian sausage (removed from their skins and broken up so it looks like mince)
2 slices of proscuitto di Parma (torn into small pieces)
3 leaves of swiss chard (washed thoroughly)
1 clove garlic (finely sliced)
1 small white onion (finely chopped)
1/2 tsp of chopped rosemary
1 chopped red chilli (seeds removed)
Freshly grated parmesan
75ml double cream
2 tblsp of olive oil
Cut the swiss chard green leaves off and chop them roughly. Cut the white stems into 1 cm batons. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the swiss chard stalks and leaves until they are tender. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and leave to cool down in a colander, do not refresh in cold water. Leave a cup or two of the Swiss chard water.
In a frying pan or sauté pan add 2 tblsp of olive oil and add the chopped onion, garlic and rosemary, cook for 2 minutes then add the proscuitto di Parma. Cook this for a further 3 minutes then add the broken up sausage meat and cook for a few minutes so the sausage gets a little colour. There maybe some excess fat from the sausage meat, so you drain this off.
Add the swiss chard stalks and leaves to the cooked sausage meat and the chopped fresh chilli. Add the double cream and one cup of the swiss chard cooking water, check the seasoning. Leave to one side or on a low heat on the stove.
In a large pot of boiling salted water cook the penne for 2 minutes less than the packet suggests. Remove the penne with a slotted spoon and add to the sausage sauce.
Place on the stove and cook the sauce and the penne together so the flavour of the sauce gets absorbed into the pasta and the starch from the pasta starts to thicken the sauce.
Add a ladle of pasta water to the sauce so the pasta is really juicy. Reduce the liquid and toss or stir really well so the pasta and sauce becomes emulsified. Serve in hot bowls with black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Try a glass of Valpolicella with this!