It's still winter — a time for warm, hearty comfort food. Pasta was a favorite of just about every child who dined in my restaurant, so I always tried to have at least one kid-friendly pasta dish on hand. Even plain noodles with freshly grated Parmesan cheese were popular with young diners who might not be interested in wheat berries or quinoa.
But this recipe is much more nutritious than plain noodles, and it tastes great. Plus, you don't have to cook the pasta separately; you make everything in one large pan, so cleaning up is a snap.
This is the basic recipe, but use it as a starting point. Vary the meat and pasta to make an assortment of different dinners. Kids seem to like rotini because it's a funny shape, but if they have a favorite, by all means use that.
I know that cream is a no-no for many of us, but it only takes a few tablespoons to turn this family-style dish into a restaurant-quality entrée you could easily serve for a get-together.
1 pound Italian sausage, hot or mild, casings removed, cut in 1-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces of rotini pasta
1/2 of a 35-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning, or 1- teaspoons each dried basil and oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, optional
1/4 cup dry red wine, optional
1 3/4 - 2 cups water
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream, optional (do not use half-and-half; it can curdle)
Coat a 12-inch heavy pan with nonstick spray. Brown the sausage, then add the garlic and cook another minute. If there is too much oil in the pan, use a paper towel to absorb it and discard.
Add the pasta to the pan and pour in the crushed tomatoes. Add the dried herbs to the pan, crushing them in your hands as you do. Add the salt, sugar and peppers, and add the wine if using. Add the water and tomato paste. Give it all a stir to get the pasta into the sauce.
Cover tightly and cook on a low simmer, stirring occasionally, about 18 minutes, until the pasta is cooked through.
When the pasta is done, stir in the cream, if using. If the dish isn't "saucy" enough, add a little more water until it's right for you.
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