My friend Molly’s mother, Mary, is an awesome cook and hostess. When you spend a weekend at her house in Connecticut you can count on eggs straight from the chicken house and fresh squeezed juice for breakfast, a delicious dinner that she makes look easy, and always finding cookies in the cookie jar–an actual cookie jar! If you’re especially lucky (or happen to have been having an especially tough time, necessitating an escape to CT), Mary might even make you an apple pie with your name carved in the crust. I’ve loved everything I’ve ever eaten that she’s made, but only one of her recipes has become one of mine–her sausage and cream sauce pasta.
There are only a very few dishes I can confidently make without consulting a recipe, and this is at the top of the list. Both because it’s extremely easy and because I’ve just plain made it so many times. When I first started living by myself in the fall of 2009 and had nothing but my own whims to answer to when it came to meal planning, I realized that I turned to this pasta both when I was in an awful mood and in a great one. I can see myself so clearly, swinging into the grocery store on Amsterdam and 120th street at the end of the day, either high on an especially productive and silly meeting with my students or totally dragging after a late grad school class, and realizing that what sounded absolutely best for dinner was this pasta (and some red from the wine store I would also walk by on my way home). I think it speaks to how comforting this dish is, both to make and to eat, that it could cheer me up me when I was feeling blue and keep my good mood going when I was in the pink. Or, of course, when I just wanted to eat something I knew for sure would be delicious.
Mary made this for dinner one of the last times I visited, worrying even as she served it that she should have made something different since she knows I make this so frequently on my own. I was so glad to re-taste her version, tho, and to remind myself of the differences. Mary’s more restrained original is a silky gloss over the pasta. Over the years, mine has evolved into a straight up cream sauce. I’m more than liberal with my cheese, and I’ve upped the cream from her original recipe. Don’t let my addition of peas fool you-all of that dairy plus a pound of sausage adds up to a pretty decadent dish. I like to make this with the full recipe amounts of sausage and pasta when I know I’ll be sharing it with someone else the first night, and then parcel the rest out for lunches. This is especially great if you know you’ll be having a tough week, and want to sneak in a treat yo’self moment at lunch time.
I’ve included both Mary’s original ingredient list and the different amounts my excess has brought me to over the years (also, peas), as well as instructions for both. I still love it the way Mary makes it…but I always always make it my way. You should do whatever seems best to you, but if you like cheese and sausage and pasta (and I assume you do, if you’re at all like Laura and me), you should make this recipe. Ideally while sipping your favorite weeknight wine and listening to music that makes you smile, all the better to enjoy the mood elevating powers of this pasta.
mary’s sausage sauce pasta
mary’s original ingredients:
1/2 lb sweet italian sausage
1 1/2 tbs chopped onion or shallot
2 tbs butter
2 tbs veggie oil
freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup heavy cream
fusilli, small shells, or campanelle pasta
my updated ingredient list:
1 lb sweet or spicy italian sausage
1 small shallot, chopped
2 tbs butter
2 tbs veggie oil
1 cup heavy cream (I used to do the 2/3 cup, but just started putting in the whole half pint. no regrets.)
several handfuls of shredded asiago (or parm if you can’t find it) cheese
as many green peas (I always use frozen) as your heart desires
1 lb pasta, ideally campanelle but fusilli works too
saute shallot in butter and oil until soft. add sausage. break into small pieces using a wooden spoon. saute for ten-ish minutes, or until no longer pink. add cream and plenty of black pepper, allow cream to cook down for a few minutes. toss with cooked pasta and serve with shredded parm. or, if you’d like to follow my excessive example…
once the sausage is cooked through, add cream, a big handful of shredded asiago and several cranks of pepper. let the sauce thicken, adding as much more cheese and pepper as your taste and conscious will allow. once the sauce has thickened (i tend to time this so that i’m adding cream to the sausage a minute or two after i’ve added the pasta to a pot of boiling water, to give you a sense of how long i let the cream sauce simmer), add green peas. do one more taste check to make sure you’ve got sufficient asiago and peppery spice. toss the sauce with pasta, already looking forward to your ample leftovers, and enjoy.