Tagliatelle with Fresh Tomato Sauce and Italian Sausage
Though certainly a comfort food, this pasta al pomodoro is a refined version of the classic childhood favorite, Spaghetti and Meatballs, a dish I’ll revisit at a later time.
For now, let’s take a look at a dish that takes simplicity to a whole new level. From the moreish tagliatelle to the sumptuous sausage, smothered in a vine-ripened tomato sauce, this taste of Italian flare practices both restraint and respect for the beautiful ingredients.
There’s something incredibly satisfying about pasta. Its silky texture, its al dente bite. Its utter simplicity. Despite the numerous variations of shapes and sizes, sauces and accompaniments, most pasta dishes give very little room to hide when mistakes are committed. When it’s done right, it’s heaven. Done wrong, it’s a nightmare.
Tagliatelle is a long flat cut of pasta from the region of Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy. The exacting measurements of tagliatelle is 1mm thick by 6mm wide, and because it’s a pasta typically made fresh, the texture is rougher than dry pastas, making it more versatile. It can stand up to a thick Bolognese sauce, or a light cream or tomato sauce.
Making and handling the dough is key to perfect pasta. Not too dry and not too wet. In this recipe we won’t add any water or salt, just flour, eggs, and oil. Easy peasy. We won’t use water because we don’t want it too wet, and we won’t use salt, because we want our pasta to be al dente. Salt goes in the water to boil, not the dough.
Secondly, we have the sausage. Freshly ground pork minced with garlic, shallots and a selection of fresh herbs and seasonings. We won’t be putting the sausage into casings. Instead we’ll make a faux casing using plastic wrap. Just as if we used a store-bought sausage, we will open the casing and squeeze out balls of meat onto a hot saute pan. So the casings would be a waste of time and material.
And lastly, comes the tomato sauce or pasta al pomodoro. A light fresh sauce made with tomatoes, peeled and seeded, garlic, shallots, olive oil, and some fresh herbs.
The only problem with this dish is that it’s very easy to overeat. The lightness of it is deceptive. Just a little more, and a little more, and before you know it, you’ve gone too far. You’re stuffed and have no room for your tiramisu. Yeah right.
- 450g pork shoulder, cubed
- 200g bacon
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 shallot
- 1 tbsp fresh oregano
- 1 tbsp fresh basil
- 1 tsp fennel seed
- 1 tsp dry thyme
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp dry chilli flakes (optional)
To make the sausage, the first thing you want to do is toast the fennel seed. Using a dry frying pan, add the fennel seed and turn heat up to med-high. Toss the seeds for 3-5 minutes just to draw out their natural oil. Don’t let them darken. Remove from heat and place in a pestle and mortar.
Measure out the other herbs and spices. Then add the thyme, paprika, salt, black pepper, and chilli flakes to the fennel in the pestle and mortar and crush them up.
Finely chop the oregano and basil, and mince the garlic and shallot.
Before grinding the meat, chop it into manageable pieces that will fit into the grinder.
Now it’s time to grind the meat. Using a meat grinder with the largest cutter, begin feeding the shoulder and bacon through. After you’ve grounded the pork, add the seasonings from the pestle and mortar, as well as the fresh herbs, garlic, and shallot. Feed the minced meat through the grinder one more time, incorporating all the ingredients.
Lay down a long piece of plastic wrap and place the sausage meat on one end. Start rolling up the sheet of plastic while shaping the meat into a long thick sausage. Twist both ends of the plastic tightly and place the sausage in the fridge to cool for at least 1 hour.
- 400g Semolina flour
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 or 2 tbsp olive oil
On a clean work surface, or in a bowl, pour flour and make a well. Add the eggs. Be sure the walls of the well are high enough, otherwise you’ll have an eggy mess all over your counter.
Using two fingers, stir the eggs in a steady circular motion, staying in the center of the well. The yolks will break and flour from around the edges will begin to incorporate.
As the flour and eggs mix, start expanding your circular motion into broader circles until all the flour has blended with the eggs.
Knead for 3 to 5 minutes, ensuring and dough is well mixed. Wrap in plastic and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Remove dough from fridge and place on a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough in half, and even quarters for more manageable pieces. Press the piece of dough down to flatten.
When using a pasta machine, you should have one of two models. One model will have a dial that runs from 7 (thickest) to 1 (thinnest), the other model’s dial will run from 0 (thickest) to 9 (thinnest). I’ll be using the second model, 0-9.
With your dial set to zero, feed the piece of dough through the pasta machine. It should be flat and smooth. Now fold both ends evenly into the middle, turn at a 90 degree angle, and feed it through the machine again. Do this two more times, keeping your dial set to zero. This is a process called “laminating the dough”.
Now that you’ve laminated your dough, set dial to 1, and roll it through. Then switch the dial to 2, and so on until you get up to 7. This will give you exactly 1mm thickness. I measured. If using the other model, 7-1, you should be finished at number 3. Also, keep the sheet of pasta well dusted with flour as you roll it through the machine.
Next, take the sheet of pasta dough and put it through the 6mm cutter. This is your tagliatelle cutter. The thinner one is for spaghetti.
There, your tagliatelle is ready to cook.
To cook the pasta, pour 3-4 liters of water into a large pot. Add 2 tbsp of salt and bring to a boil.
When the water boils, add half of your fresh-cut tagliatelle. My general rule of cooking fresh pasta is when the pasta goes in, the water cools, when it reaches the boiling point again, cook for 30 seconds. Usually an average cooking time of 2 minutes, give or take 10-15 seconds.
Drain the pasta and serve within three minutes for optimal consistency and temperature.
Fresh Tomato Sauce
- 16-18 plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 large shallots
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
- 3 tbsp fresh basil, chopped, and for garnish
- 2 tsp kosher or sea salt
- fresh cracked black pepper, to season
- Parmesan or Gran Padano cheese, for garnish
The sauce is very basic and should only take 30-40minutes from start to finish.
Begin by blanching the tomatoes. First, put a large pot of water on to boil. As that’s heating, score the bottom of each tomato by marking a cross on it with a sharp paring knife. Have a bowl of ice cold water ready.
When the water boils, add the tomatoes. Within seconds, you’ll see the peel where you scored it starting to pull away from the flesh. Take the tomatoes out and place them in the ice bath to stop cooking. They should be in the boiling water for no more than 30 seconds.
Peel the tomatoes, then slice them into quarters and take out the seeds. Put the pieces of tomato in a bowl.
When all the tomatoes have been peeled, seeded, and in the bowl, now you can crush them using your hands. Don’t over crush them since the cooking process will also break them down.
Now we’re ready to put the entire dish together.
Have the water on for the pasta, but don’t cook it yet.
Heat up a saute pan over med-high heat, I like using a sticky one, as opposed to a non-stick pan.
Drizzle 1/4 cup of olive oil in the pan. When it starts to shimmer, add the sausage by holding it over the pan and squeezing out lumps of the meat. They don’t have to be perfect balls, we want a rustic dish after all. When you’ve dropped all the sausage into the pan, turn them over. Hopefully little bits stick to the bottom of the pan.
When the sausage gets golden, add the garlic and shallot, stir quickly for about a minute.
Now add the crushed tomatoes. The water from the tomatoes will lift the little bits stuck to the pan, giving a depth of flavor. Add the salt and pepper and turn heat down to simmer for 15 minutes. A lot of the water will evaporate, naturally thickening the tomato sauce, but it should still be a bit watery.
Cook your pasta and drain. Place on warm serving plates.
Toss the fresh oregano and basil into the sauce and give a quick stir.
Gently spoon the sauce over the pasta and garnish with parmesan cheese.
Serve with brushetta and Caesar salad.