What’s your go-to meal for when you don’t know what else to cook? For us, it’s pasta and veggies.
This recipe came into being a couple of years ago, when I made a concerted effort to find a way to sneak more veggies into my standby recipes. Pasta and sauce is a classic standby recipe, right? Like most people, we keep a stash of whole wheat pasta and tomato sauce in the pantry. But if you know me, you know I can’t stand just boiling pasta and pouring canned/jarred sauce and calling it dinner. I make what we call Frankenstein Sauce — I use the canned sauce as the starting point, but then keep adding things until I can call it mine. The recipe varies depending on what I have on hand. Sometimes it’s meatless. Sometimes it gets ground beef, and sometimes hot Italian sausage.
Last night, I decided it was time to use up the leeks that were starting to get soft in the fridge. Leeks are easy to handle. If you’ve never used them before, the trick is to slice them into circles about 1/4″ and then place them in a colander to rinse. It’s important to get the dirt from between the rings, so you’ll need to use your fingers to separate them.
To sauté the leeks, last night I decided to use my big cast iron fryer, for reasons I’ll explain later. You could just as easily do the sautéing in the pot in which you plan to cook the sauce. Of course, I used bacon fat. You can use whatever oil you prefer. If I don’t have leeks, I’ll use onions. This is also where I’d add chopped mushrooms, if I have any. Unfortunately I didn’t last night. I love mushrooms in my sauce.
When whatever I’m sautéing starts to soften, I add the meat — in this case hot Italian sausage — which has been cut in to bit sized pieces. I like to use sausage, if I have it. If I don’t I’ll use ground beef or ground turkey. Or skip it entirely. And normally I’d add garlic at this point, but I don’t have any on hand. I don’t like to add the garlic earlier, because it starts to burn faster than everything else.
Last night, as I mentioned earlier, I decided to do the sautéing in my cast iron fryer rather than in the sauce pot. It’s at this point, once the sausage was all browned, that I transferred everything to the sauce pot. I used a slotted spoon, making sure to leave as much of the rendered fat from the sausage still in the skillet.
The sausage in the pot:
Here’s where I get to the canned tomatoes. I use whatever I have on hand. I like to make a big pot of sauce, to ensure lots of leftovers, so I usually include at least two of the large cans of sauce, and one or two cans of chopped/diced/whole tomatoes. Last night, I could only find one can of sauce, so I supplemented with a can of tomato paste, and added lots of water.
Add them all to the pot, along with a healthy dose of oregano (I really love oregano) and basil. I like to use fresh, but I haven’t been tending my herb garden very well lately, so I used dried. I’ll also add a couple of tablespoons of red wine, to add a bit of complexity to the flavor.
Let this simmer for a while. The longer, the better. Last night, I let this go for at least 30 minutes before I went on to the next step. While that’s cooking, and blending all those delicious flavors, I search through my fridge and find whatever vegetables I have that I need to cook up. My favorite combo to use for this dish is carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and chard. Last night all I had to use was carrots and kale. Both got washed off and cut up. I cut the carrots into long-ish sticks, and tore the kale into about 2″ squres.
Here’s where that skilled full of rendered sausage fat comes in. Add the veggies to the fat, in the order of longest cooking time first. That seasoned fat will give the veggies a wonderful flavor.
To help the kale soften up, I added a very small amount of water, and covered everything with a lid.
Somewhere between the carrots and the kale, I put the pasta on to cook, so everything would be done around the same time. When I serve this up, I like to put the pasta on the bottom, then a hearty layer of veggies and the top it off with sauce. I also prefer to grate some Parmesan cheese (or the like) on top, but we’re out of that too.
What do you think? Is this a good way to sneak more veggies into your standby meals?