Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pasta with Chicken Sausage and Roasted Asparagus

I've kind of been craving this pasta all week but had to wait for my own, self-imposed, allowable window of time to pass before I could make it again.

We did a quick, 24-hour turnaround visit to Seattle last weekend where I whipped this dish up in our daughter's darling new apartment. Only it was a bit late when everything finally came together...getting a late start from home due to a heavy drizzle and loss of power (will our alarm go off when the lights go back on? Yes. Though we did finally ask our kind neighbor to handle this matter so we could get on the road), getting through the massive UW/USC game day traffic (Go Huskies!), getting groceries, getting our furry "child" settled in for this dinner stop en route to our hotel (cute room for mom, dad AND dog!). So, I had a nice little helping of this favorite pasta and happily left the leftovers (which might just be better on Day Two) for our daughter to enjoy.

The original recipe that inspired this dish was snipped from the pages of a Los Angeles Times Magazine well over 12 years ago; a great little pasta with strips of breaded chicken, fried to a golden brown and partnered with fresh steamed broccoli and sauteed radicchio. I made that version for years before ending up with this combination. I must have lacked some ingredient at one point (probably the broccoli...and, surely, the radicchio), setting the evolution of substitution in progress until I wound up with this particular recipe.

I still make that first variety from time to time but this one just comes together so much quicker since you simply throw the sausage into a pan until it's golden and delicious. (The other recipe calls for you to slice up the chicken into strips, coat the pieces with breadcrumbs, and fry them up in batches in order to not over-crowd your pan. It takes a bit more time than this throw-sausage-in-pan option.) I also happen to love asparagus and think it pairs really well with the sausage.

This version is also just a bit heartier...the sausage is just so flavorful. I've used a few different varieties but absolutely love using chicken/spinach/feta sausage (or whatever I can find that is remotely similar). I've made this dish many, many you can probably imagine given that it's hung around in the recipe file for this long! However, I veered from the original recipe long ago, like so many of us do after we've made something several times. Eventually you just wing it. Given that I now kind of just throw everything together, I've done my best (below) to detail the quantities.

Apart from tasting great, this dish is a perfect family meal (everything you need in one dish), a great option for company (since it comes together so quickly and can be popped in the fridge and easily reheated), and, best of all, keeps really well. It only takes about 30 to 45 minutes from start to finish, allowing you to clean up all your pans (since it can be plated right to your serving dish) and, thus, have very little after-dinner clean up.

While you set your pasta water to boil, you can prep up your asparagus. Lay the spears on a cookie sheet, drizzle them with extra-virgin olive oil, season generously with salt and pepper, and pop them in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for about five to six minutes. Don't forget them...they're best just slightly roasted (not overly cooked!).

When your water is at a full boil, add a generous handful of salt to the pot and then add your penne. It should take about 10 minutes for it to boil up to a perfect al dente firmness. While all that's going on, pop your sausage into a large skillet and brown it up on all sides (I kind of roll mine to the edges of the pan to help keep them set in place to brown evenly as they want to curl a bit and roll to their own beat). When your sausage is beautifully browned and cooked through, remove it to your cutting board and let it rest. Don't wash up your skillet! You'll use this same pan to prep your sauce, using all the great sausage drippings to give it even more flavor. (That funky little blob in the sauce photo below is a few dabs of unsalted butter...essential, in my opinion, to making the sauce perfectly yummy.)

When all your colorful fixings are cooked up, just slice your asparagus and sausage on the diagonal (it just looks prettier that way) and toss them with your penne. Pour your sauce over the top, and give it one last toss. It's yummy and beautifully colorful...juicy, golden brown sausage, ripe red tomatoes, and brilliant green roasted asparagus, mixed with perfect al dente penne rigate. Buon Appetito!

Pasta with Chicken Sausage and Roasted Asparagus
serves 6

4 - 6 large chicken/spinach/feta sausages (I've found these at Whole Foods and New Seasons...4 were plenty)
1 bunch of fresh asparagus, trimmed (about 20 or so spears)
1 pound bag of penne rigate pasta (I used an organic 100% durum semolina penne rigate)
2 1/2 to 3 cups water, for sauce
1 to 2 cubes chicken bouillon (1 cube/2 cup water size bouillon)...start with one and add more after your sauce comes together a bit for a taste test.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle over asparagus
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 can diced tomatoes (I used Muir Glen's Organic Diced Tomatoes with Italian Herbs)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried italian seasoning
salt and pepper, to taste (I added a bit less than 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper BUT taste your sauce first as the bouillon adds saltiness)

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees and place asparagus on a cookie sheet. Drizzle olive oil over top and toss a bit. Season generously with salt and black pepper and pop into oven to roast for about 5 to 6 minutes.

2. Set large pot of water to boil. Once at a rolling boil, add a generous handful of salt to season, and toss in penne. Cook uncovered for approximately 10 minutes, until al dente.

3. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, place your sausage to cook. Turn to ensure a golden brown color on all sides. When cooked through, remove from pan and set aside to rest. Don't wash up this skillet!

4. In the same skillet you cooked your sausage, add 2-3 cups of water (depending on how brothy you like your pasta...I like to have the extra broth). Break up bouillon cubes and add to water, stirring to dissolve. Add can of tomatoes, olive oil, butter and italian seasoning. Stir to combine and let simmer on low heat for approximately 5 to 8 minutes. Taste sauce and season with salt and pepper, as needed.

5. Cut asparagus and sausages into bite-size pieces (on the diagonal looks nice). Toss cooked pasta, asparagus and sausage together and pour sauce over top. Give it one last toss. Serve with a good parmesan cheese and enjoy.