I love unusual food combinations that work on everyone. Where you put a dish in front of a loved one for the first time, and they get that look. That vaguely suspicious expression; right before they politely ask, “What’s in this, again?”
To which I annoyingly reply, “Why, a simple yet rustic visit to northern Italy, why do you ask?” *everyone at the table rolls their eyes*
Sausage, dijon mustard and freshly sliced basil are one of those culinary combinations that can be difficult to envision, but with the first bite you see the truth. And the truth is that all of these flavors actually belong together; the sausage providing spice and complexity, acidity coming from the white wine and dijon, and the freshness of the basil tossed in at the very end cuts the richness without taking over the dish.
I found this recipe in a back issue of Food & Wine magazine, and I must say this one is only very slightly adapted from that source. The main substitution I made is an important one, though, and one I recommend you make as well — it’s about the shape of the pasta. Orecchiette is the ideal shape for this dish (the original suggests conchiglie, otherwise known as medium shells). Orecchiette is available in most grocery stores these days, and the “little ears” capture the sauce perfectly, not to mention that they’re about the same size as the chunks of sausage running through the dish, so they eat well together.
This is also one of those magical meals in which the protein and sauce cook in the amount of time it takes to boil water and cook the pasta. This makes it, in my opinion, a perfect busy any-night (who says weekend nights don’t qualify?) dish. I’ve also entertained with this one and nobody ever dreamed that I was secretly serving them one of my hectic weeknight all-stars. Ssshhhh. They won’t know if you don’t tell them. And if a bottle of Barbera pops open all on its own (I didn’t see who did it — did you?), just go with it.
Orecchiette with Spicy Italian Sausage, Mustard and Basil
Adapted from Nigel Slater via Food & Wine Magazine
1 lb dried orecchiette pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb bulk spicy Italian sausage
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon coarse ground mustard
1/2 cup heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons fresh basil, sliced into ribbons
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat your largest saute pan (preferably one with high sides) over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and and heat for 2 minutes. Add the sausage in one big layer and cook without breaking up the sausage until the one side is deeply caramelized, about 3 min. Break sausage up with a spatula and continue to cook until no longer pink. Don’t break the pieces up too small, we want them to be irregular sizes and for some bigger chunks to remain. Once the sausage is cooked through, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon onto a paper towel lined plate and set aside. Add the white wine to the pan and stir to get the golden brown pieces off the bottom. Once the wine comes up to a simmer, add the heavy cream and mustards. Whisk the mixture until smooth, then return the sausage to the pan and toss to coat.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta. Heat a large pot of water over high heat until it reaches a rolling boil. Add a couple of tablespoons of kosher salt to the water and add the pasta. Cook 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about ¼ c of the salty pasta water to help make the sauce, if desired. Toss well to combine. Add the basil to the pasta and fold it in gently. Garnish with more fresh basil, if desired, and serve immediately.