One of the most freeing things about my evolution as a “food person” has been learning my likes and dislikes and adapting recipes accordingly. Sounds simple, right? But when I was first learning how to cook, I felt chained to a recipe. I assumed every dish was quadruple tested, its methods and ingredients absolute truth.
And then I met my college roommate, who insisted that you could cut the amount of sugar in every cookie recipe by half, or even substitute honey. (Heresy!) And then I met Gabriel, who alarmed me with his way of just throwing in salt and pepper as he tasted a dish, rather than measuring it out by the teaspoon.
Guess what? The food cooked up by those recipe-challengers was delicious! As I became more comfortable with my own cooking skills, I emulated Alex and Gabe and learned to approach recipes as starting points, not rigid contracts. And so it was with a big freaking smile on my face that I finally dumped out the jar of dried cilantro in my spice drawer a couple weeks ago. Because it turns out I don’t like cilantro.
I also can’t stand fennel seed, which is unfortunate, because the sausage I chose for this otherwise amazingly delicious recipe was rife with it. But now that I’m 100% sure of my distaste, I’ll be sure to choose the fennel-less sausage next time. Because I can.
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
- pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- 3/4 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- 8 oz. dried pasta (I chose pasta that looked like broken-up lasagna pieces)
- 42.5 oz. canned, crushed tomatoes (I used one 28-oz can and one 14.5-oz can)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- 3/4 cup ricotta
- 6 oz. fresh mozzarella, chopped into bite-size pieces
- 3 Tbs. chopped fresh basil
Heat olive oil in a large oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until onion is softened, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in crushed red pepper flakes, italian seasoning, and a pinch of kosher salt and black pepper. Add sausage to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until broken into pieces and no longer pink (3-5 minutes).
Stir in pasta and tomatoes. Cover and continue to cook on medium heat for about 15-20 minutes, or until pasta is al dente. Be sure to stir fairly frequently, otherwise the pasta will stick to the bottom of the pan.
Meanwhile, preheat broiler. When pasta is done, remove skillet from heat and stir in half the parmesan and ricotta. Adjust seasoning to taste. Sprinkle the pasta with the remaining parmesan and chunks of mozzarella, and dot with the remaining ricotta.
Place skillet under broiler and cook until the cheese starts to bubble and brown. Remove from oven, sprinkle with fresh basil, and serve.