Gio’s Comforting Pasta Bolognese

Gio's Comforting Pasta Bolognese

  • Servings: Makes about 3 quarts of sauce
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For the Sausage:
2 pounds ground pork, unseasoned
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (more for spicier version)
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the Sauce:
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
1½ teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
Half a yellow onion, finely diced
3 28-ounce cans whole, peeled tomatoes, pureed (or 1 #10 can – 6 lbs. 6 oz. will also work)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon Sicilian herb blend (can be found in specialty stores)
2 sprigs fresh oregano
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh basil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Parmesan cheese (to garnish)
1 pound penne pasta, cooked according to directions on package

Optional add-ins:
1 cup fresh baby spinach leaves
1 cup baby portabella mushrooms, sliced
1 cup grape tomatoes, diced

In a small pan, toast the fennel seeds over medium-low heat until golden and aromatic, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, use your hands to thoroughly mix all the ingredients together until well combined, about 3 to 5 minutes. In the same frying pan used for the fennel, cook a small piece of sausage over medium heat until cooked through, then taste and adjust seasoning if desired.

Cook the sausage in a large frying pan over medium heat until lightly golden brown and cooked through. Once cool enough to handle, use a large, sharp knife to finely chop the sausage until it resembles coarse crumbs; set aside.

In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and cook for one more minute. Add the diced onion and cook over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the pureed tomatoes and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Add the cooked sausage, herbs, salt and pepper and simmer over medium-low to low heat for 30 minutes up to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. May serve immediately or, for best results, refrigerate overnight before serving and reheat on the stove.

As the sauce simmers, cook the pasta according to the directions on the package and set aside.

Just before serving, add the spinach, grape tomatoes and mushrooms to the sauce and cook over medium-high heat until the mushrooms soften, about 3 to 5 minutes. Toss the sauce with the cooked pasta until each noodle is evenly coated, then transfer to serving bowl. Garnish with parmesan cheese and good, crusty bread.

To store: May be refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.

Gio’s Tips:

  • Choose a noodle with ridges, like penne, to catch as much meat per noodle as possible.
  • This is a versatile recipe and you may use any mix of the fresh and/or dried herbs mentioned. You may also vary the amounts according to your taste.
  • This recipe can easily be doubled and tripled. For large batches, the sausage can be cooked in a 400-degree oven for easy preparation. Simply press the sausage onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, cover with tin foil and bake for 15 minutes; then, uncover and bake for 5 minutes more, until the meat is lightly browned.
  • For larger batches, the tomatoes can be added whole and then pureed with a handheld immersion blender once the sauce is brought to a boil, before adding the herbs.
  • This sauce is also excellent on pizza.
  • You can find an excellent Sicilian herb blend in the gourmet aisle at TJ Maxx stores.