My Old (Read: “Actual”) Favorite Meal

A few days ago I wrote about a “Southwestern Green Chicken Chili” soup that I declared my new favorite meal. I may have been exaggerating a little bit in my enthusiasm for this newfound dish. You see, this weekend I broke with my self-imposed seasonal-eating rules and made what has been my long-standing favorite meal, and I was reminded anew that some upstart chili/soup thing, no matter how tasty, has a long way to go before it’s the dish I want to eat on my birthday.

So, my reasserted favorite meal is, unsurprisingly, a pasta dish (hey, I don’t maintain this Olympian physique by avoiding carbs, you know), and, unsurprisingly, comes from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials Of Italian Cooking. I first made this about seven years ago, and quickly memorized the recipe. I don’t know, at this point, if I’m still doing it the way the recipe was written, so don’t go blaming this on Marcella if it looks wonky.

The sauce starts with a pound of sweet Italian sausage, without casings, which you brown up in a dutch oven or large saucepan with a tablespoon or two of extra-virgin olive oil. Then I add two or three yellow onions, chopped, to the pan, and saute until the onions are translucent and very soft. Then I add two yellow bell peppers and three red bell peppers, which have been peeled (with a vegetable peeler — yes, it’s a total pain in the ass) and diced, and saute until the peppers are soft. Then I toss in about five small tomatoes, which have been peeled and diced. (In the summer, when I have lovely, huge tomatoes, I use two. This time of year, when I break down and buy the nasty-assed tomatoes in the store, I use five of those little ones that come on the vine. Marcella says to use plum tomatoes, which are, traditionally, the only thing in the grocery store out of season that tastes like a tomato, but I’ve found that my store carries really heinous plum tomatoes.) (And yes, the peeling of the tomatoes is another pain in the ass, with the scoring the skins, dumping in boiling water, then dumping into an ice bath. This recipe sure has a lot of steps in it that I hate, now that I think about it…) Then I season with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste, and let everything simmer until the tomatoes break down a bit and get a nice, saucy consistency.

Now, Marcella’s recipe mentioned some kind of pasta shape that was supposedly traditionally perfectly suited to this sauce, but please. It wasn’t in my store, and I wasn’t about to make it. So I decided that I’d go with a very grown-up pasta shape, something that would reflect my maturity as a home chef:

wagonwheelpastasmall.jpg

Yeah, that’s right — wagon wheels. The first time I brought this in as leftovers for lunch at my current job, one of my coworkers actually laughed at me. But in all seriousness, these hold this sauce perfectly. The De Cecco brand noodles (my favorite) have nice ridges that cling to the delicious bell pepper-tomato sauce part, and the holes in the wheels grab onto the bits of onions and bell peppers and sausage. I really don’t understand why Marcella didn’t go with the wagon wheels to start out with. It’s probably because she’s not six.

Anyway, the last step, after tossing the sauce and noodles, is to top everything with a hearty grating of fresh parmesan cheese, and there you go. My favorite dinner. I love this so much. I love it with a glass of white wine on a Saturday night with hockey, I love it microwaved for lunch, I love snacking on it cold out of a tupperware. This is, bar none, my favorite meal.

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