The British love of spaghetti bolognese – spag bol to many – is in specific terms a mystery to me, but I can understand the general appeal of long pasta and rich sauce. It is definitely the thing to eat when it’s cold outside, as it is right now in my corner of the world. If you’re friends with any Brits on social media platforms, particularly Londoners, you will have had to sit through continual gaping over the fact that there is an inch or two of snow. I’m sorry. (I think, as per my friend’s suggestion, that it is more fun to imagine that an ice cream factory exploded.)
This is one of those sauces which rely on sausage meat for flavour and body. Sweet or hot Italian sausages seem to be the usual choices but I’ve only ever made it with various types of plain British sausage. Let me tell you, it’s pretty good. While I prefer this sauce using, plump, fat-speckled sausages, less fancy ones are also perfectly palatable–I won’t lie to you and say it’s all the same, though.
Yes, I know the thing to do with a good sausage is to just cook and eat it. However, I notice that in supermarkets you’re often in various ways encouraged to buy up two packs of sausages, so you might stick one pack in the freezer for later and enjoy your properly fried sausages now. Pasta, a can of tomatoes, some dried chillies, olive oil, garlic and onions are also things which can be kept for another time, or which you already have hanging around in your kitchen cupboards. You can therefore always have the wherewithal to cook a low-effort and decent meal for 4 people–or, in the case of my billy-no-mates self, have a day or two’s worth of easy meals for myself. It is always good to have something like this up your sleeve, especially if you can’t be bothered to go outside because you don’t have proper footwear for this weather. (By “you” I mean “me” and by “proper footwear” I mean “boots that don’t leak”).
I quickly put together this sauce because I wanted something substantial and warming with tender mince and the rich heat of dried chillies, and just enough tomato to hold everything together and coat the pasta. This is the kind of infinitely versatile and forgiving recipe which is meant to be adjusted to your taste–use less sausage, a different kind of sausage, add more tomatoes, splash in some wine, use fresh chillies or reduce, de-seed, omit them entirely, etc.
P.S. If you’re after a similar simple yet rich storecupboard pasta recipe to suit a vegetarian diet, there’s always Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with butter and onion. I’ve tried it with just a good glug of olive oil and it works well, too.
LINGUINE WITH SAUSAGE, TOMATO, AND DRIED CHILLI
Serves 4 as a main course.
The sauce keeps for 2 – 3 days in the fridge. Reheat well and toss with freshly cooked pasta.
6 large dried chillies (I used Thai ones; use fewer if you know your heat tolerance is low!)
2 – 3 shallots, or half an onion
4 cloves garlic
About 450g pork sausages (6 plump ones, in my case)
1 x 400g can tomatoes, whole or chopped as you like
100ml water or stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Put the dried chillies in a medium bowl and cover with warm water. Leave to soak for about 15 – 20 minutes while you get on with everything else.
Peel the shallots and garlic cloves, chopping off their roots. Roughly cut up the garlic into small pieces roughly the size of rice grains. Halve the shallots and cut into rough slices. Set aside.
Set a large skillet over a medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to completely cover the bottom in a thin layer.
While the pan is heating, slice open the sausages and peel off the casings. Add half the sausage meat to the hot pan, squashing it down and browning it on one side without moving, then add the other half of the sausage meat, stirring and cutting with your spoon or spatula to break everything up. Add the chopped shallots and garlic cloves to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let everything cook for a good 5 minutes or so, until the meat is cooked through and the shallots and garlic softened.
Drain the chillies and roughly chop them. Add to the pan. (You can also snip the chillies straight into the pan, if that’s easier.) Pour over the can of tomatoes, water or stock, and bring the sauce to a steady simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 – 20 minutes. Press down on any chunky tomato pieces to blend it into the sauce. The sauce is ready when everything has cooked down and thickened, with droplets of fat lightly marbling the surface. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking with salt and pepper. Keep the sauce warm while you cook the pasta.
Bring a large pan full of salted water to a rolling boil. Add all the linguine at once and cook, stirring occasionally, until just firm, anything between 6 – 12 minutes depending on exactly how thick your linguine is. I never pay attention to the packet instructions and instead just break off a little bit to have a quick nibble, and am especially vigilant when the pasta becomes soft enough to be easily flexible.
Drain the pasta, reserving a coffee cup of the cooking water. Toss thoroughly with the warm sauce, adding a few drops of cooking water to help this along. I usually just do this in the empty pasta pan, but you can decant the whole thing to a bowl or whatever you like. Check the seasoning again, then serve.