So. Lately I've been revisiting and adjusting my old standby recipes. Tomato sauce with Italian sausage and plenty of basil and parmesan is a comfort food staple in our house. Just the act of chopping vegetables and simmering a sauce makes me infinitely happier after a tough day. I absolutely did not want to mess with this recipe, but I needed it to fit my lifestyle. So goodbye, sweet and spicy Italian sausage. You're wonderful. To make up for the flavor I'd be losing after omitting the meat, I added in the spices you normally find in Italian sausage such as fennel, paprika, cayenne, and nutmeg. I've added eggplant to give the sauce some bite, and tomato paste and anchovy to make it savory. Yes, yes, anchovy is a fish (but such a small one) so it's an optional addition to this recipe. You'll get a great sauce either way. I finish the sauce with a bit of butter for some delicious fatty richness.
Extra virgin olive oil
2 eggplants, cut into 1 1/2" inch or so cubes
1 onion, diced
3 - 5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary (or 1 tablespoon dried rosemary)
2 anchovy filets, optional (I know! This makes it technically not vegetarian, but if you're not a stickler it's a good addition. Trust.)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine
2 14-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pasta of your choice (I like rigatoni)
Garnishes: shredded basil, shaved parmesan
Preheat oven to 450°. Spread eggplant onto baking sheet in one layer, drizzle with olive oil, and bake until edges are browned, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, coat the bottom of a large saucepan with olive oil and sauté the onions on medium low heat until softened, about 8 minutes. Next, add garlic and cook for a minute or so, then add fennel, smoked paprika, cayenne, nutmeg, bay leaves and rosemary and cook until fragrant, about another minute.
If using anchovies, add these to the pot, using a wooden spoon to break them up as they simmer. The anchovies won't give the sauce a fishy flavor, they'll just give it a savory richness. Next up, add tomato paste and cook a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until paste has gone from a bright red to a deeper, wine red. And speaking of wine, go ahead and add that next, letting it simmer and cook down a bit.
Once eggplant are ready, add them to the sauce pan and turn heat to low. Add crushed tomatoes and stir to combine. As tomato sauce comes to a simmer, start boiling water for pasta and cook pasta to package instructions. While pasta is cooking, add butter to the tomato sauce. Before serving, remove bay leaves and rosemary sprigs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve pasta and tomato sauce with plenty of basil and parmesan on top. To complete the meal, I like to add a simple side salad with balsamic vinaigrette and a bulb of roasted garlic with some crusty bread.
Enjoy! It's rainy and gray today in Richmond, which means ideal pasta and wine weather.