Pasta with fresh tomato cream and sausage

Image shows a large bowl of casarecce pasta with a tomato cream and sausage sauce, a sprinkling of parmesan, and steam coming off the top

Fresh tomatoes are incredibly versatile and it is so quick and easy to make tasty pasta sauces with them, it’s hardly worth buying any tinned varieties (though they have their place in every kitchen, of course, and are a very cost-effective way to make pasta sauces). Although I call the sauce a ‘tomato cream’ – crema di pomodoro, there is no cream in this recipe. The creaminess comes entirely from the tomatoes and the cooking method (‘risottare‘ – see below).

For this recipe, I used Italian fennel sausage, which I think works best. If you can’t get any, try to get a high meat and high fat content sausage that has nice and chunky meat and fat, rather than very finely-ground meat and fat. Or you could make your own sausage meat – see my recipe here. I usually buy mine either online from Nifeislife, or in person from The Leeds Deli, when they have some in stock. Having a good, tasty sausage meat will make a big difference to this sauce.

For the pasta, I used casarecce this time, but any good durum wheat pasta with a bit of a hollow to ‘grab’ the sauce, or a nice rough surface for the same reason (fresh tagliatelle would work well, or pappardelle, if you like long pasta; other short pasta varieties such as orecchiette, conchiglie, mafalde corte etc would also work).

This recipe is quick and easy to make and only takes about as long as it takes to bring the pasta water to the boil and cook the pasta. The pasta will be partially cooked in boiling water, then finished off in the sauce, using the method known as ‘risottare‘ (imagine risotto being turned into a verb, i.e. ‘to risotto’, or ‘to cook risotto-style’). It is this cooking method that makes the sauce so deliciously rich and creamy!

Let me know what you think of this once you’ve tried it, and feel free to share your photos, too!

Ingredients (for 4 people):

  • 4 chunky Italian fennel sausages (see comments above re where to get them)
  • Approx. 600g baby plum tomatoes
  • Fine sea salt (to taste)
  • Extra virgin olive oil (a good splash – on an Italian recipe blog, you would see ‘q.b.’, which means ‘quanto basta’, i.e. as much as needed)
  • A sprinkling of freshly-grated parmesan cheese
  • Enough pasta to feed 4 people (about 500g is usually ample, especially as this is a very filling sauce with the sausage meat added). If you’re doing this as a traditional ‘primo piatto’ to be followed by a meat dish, roughly halve the quantities.
  • Coarse sea salt for the pasta water

Method:

Put a large pan of water on the hob to bring it to the boil.

While the water comes to the boil, halve the tomatoes lengthways and place them into a medium-hot large frying pan or sauté pan with a good splash of olive oil, sprinkle on some salt and cook them until they can easily be squished with the back of a spoon (this only takes a few minutes), stirring frequently.

Remove the tomatoes from the pan and let them cool for a couple of minutes. While they are cooling, skin the sausages and break the sausage meat into small chunks, then brown them in the same pan you fried off the tomatoes in.

Meanwhile, if the pasta water has come to the boil, add a generous handful of coarse sea salt to the water, then drop in your pasta. You only wnat to cook the pasta about halfway to its proper al dente eating consistency, so look at the pack instructions: For the casarecce I used, the pack recommended 8-10 minutes (8 for al dente), so I cooked it in the water for 4 minutes before proceeding to the next stage.

While the pasta is cooking and the sauisage meat is browning, blitz the tomatoes to a smooth consistency using a high-powered food blender. I use the Ninja Foodi Power Nutri Blender, but any blender of that ilk will work. If your blender is not as powerful, you may end up with bits of tomato skin that you’ll need to sieve before using the tomato cream. A powerful blender will also give the tomatoes their lovely pale and creamy consistency.

Add the tomato cream to the sausage meat in the pan and ‘rinse out’ the blender with some of the pasta cooking water, which you will then also add to the tomato cream and sausage meat in the frying pan. Stir the sauce and keep it gently simmering, to avoid it evaporating too much before the pasta goes in.

As soon as the pasta is cooked about half-way (it doesn’t have to be exact – a shorter time in the water will simply mean a longer time cooking in the sauce), scoop it out of the water with a slotted spoon and drop it straight into the pan with the sauce. It’s ok if some water comes with it. You will need the water to help it cook. Stir it through and turn up the heat under the frying pan so the pasta and sauce bubble away nicely to help the pasta cook. Keep the pasta cooking water, as you will need to ladle a bit in at a time to keep the pasta cooking – like making a risotto (except you would use stock for a risotto).

Cook the pasta in this way, stirring regularly to make sure it cooks evenly and absorbs the flavours well, adding a bit of the starchy cooking water as needed, from time to time. Don’t add too much water at once, as you need to be left with a rich, creamy sauce at the end, without having the pasta drowning in sauce!

The pasta will be cooked when it is a nice al dente consistency and you have a rich, creamy sauce – the starch from the pasta helps make it lovely and thick & creamy! 🙂

Take the pan off the heat and stir through a little bit of finely-grated parmesan, then serve immediately! Each person may wish to add a little more parmesan over the top, to taste.

Image shows a large bowl of casarecce pasta with a tomato cream and sausage sauce, a sprinkling of parmesan, and steam coming off the top
Casarecce with fresh tomato cream and Italian fennel sausage

Pasta with tomato cream and sausage – Gloriously Simple, Gloriously Good!

Tagliatelle alla Carbonara | Carbonara Sauce

Tagliatelle alla carbonara - Buon Appetito!

Tagliatelle alla Carbonara

Carbonara Pasta | The authentic way to make it

Tagliatelle alla carbonara - Buon Appetito!
Tagliatelle alla carbonara (made here with home-made egg tagliatelle)

I’ve said this before (see my previous Spaghetti alla Carbonara recipe), but it needs to be said again… I may be pedantic, but if you want to cook pasta with cream, mushrooms, whatever… go ahead, it’s your food, but please don’t call it carbonara!

The origins of carbonara are unclear, with stories abounding, but one thing is certain: It is a Roman dish, and as one half of my family is from Rome and I have spent much time there (I also lived in Rome for a short time as a toddler and then again when I was around 9 years old), I have had plenty of opportunities to eat authentic carbonara over the years.  The key is in the simplicity – there may be some debate, even amongst Romans, about whether you should use the whole egg or just the yolk, or a higher ratio of yolks to whole eggs, and whether or not it contains onions. But one thing that is never disputed is this: There is never any cream in carbonara, nor does it contain vegetables of any kind!

Below is my recipe, based on the carbonara I have eaten in many Roman restaurants.  It contains just 4 ingredients: Eggs, pecorino cheese, black pepper, guanciale (it can be difficult to get hold of in the UK – I order it online – so you CAN substitute pancetta, but for the best – and most authentic – taste, try to get hold of guanciale).  And as long as you follow the steps, it is incredibly quick and simple to make.

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 6 large egg yolks (to avoid waste, why not make meringue with the left-over whites?)
  • 100-120g finely-grated pecorino cheese (enough to make a very thick paste with the egg yolks – the exact amount will depend on the size of the yolks)
  • plenty of freshly-ground black pepper (to taste, but you do want to see a ‘speckled’ effect, ideally)
  • 200-250g guanciale, cut into approx. 1cm-wide, thin strips, or into chunkier matchstick-style sticks (if you really can’t get hold of any, substitute with diced pancetta – I get my guanciale online here)
  • Tagliatelle for 4 people (approx. 600g)

Method:

Place a large pan / stockpot approx. 3/4 full of water onto the hob and turn the heat on high.

While the pasta water comes to the boil, heat the guanciale on a low heat until the fat goes transparent and a little bit crispy (watch it carefully – it can very quickly go from perfect to burnt!).  Turn the heat off as soon as the guanciale is ready (you’ll need to turn it back on again just before you add the cooked pasta to the pan).

Cooked guanciale in the sauté pan
Cooked guanciale in the sauté pan

While the guanciale is cooking, separate the eggs and place the egg yolks in a large serving bowl.  Add the finely-grated pecorino cheese (the finer, the better, as this will help make the sauce lovely and creamy) and freshly-ground black pepper to the egg yolks and stir in with a fork.  Aim for a very thick consistency.

Thick mix of egg yolk, finely-grated pecorino cheese and freshly-ground black pepper
Thick mix of egg yolk, finely-grated pecorino cheese and freshly-ground black pepper

Once the water comes to the boil, add a handful of coarse sea salt.  Add the tagliatelle when the water is boiling vigorously and cook for the indicated time on the pack, but taste it a minute or so before the time’s up, to ensure you don’t over-cook it. It needs to retain a little bit of ‘bite’ – the ‘al dente‘ consistency. If you are using home-made egg tagliatelle, like I did, these will cook very quickly in no more than 2-3 minutes (depending on long before cooking you made them, i.e. how dry they are).

Just before the tagliatelle finish cooking, when the water is full of starch from the pasta, take a spoonful of water at a time, add it to the egg, pecorino and black pepper mixture and stir it in quickly so the mixture turns creamy.  Work quickly, so the pasta doesn’t over-cook while you do this step, but just add a little water at a time, until you have the desired consistency, as you don’t want to risk making it too runny or it getting clumpy from the boiling water melting the cheese and making it stringy, or scrambling the egg!

The creamy egg, pecorino and black pepper with the cooking water
The creamy egg, pecorino and black pepper with the cooking water

Once the tagliatelle are cooked, lift them out of the water with tongs or a slotted spaghetti spoon and drop them straight into the sauté pan with the guanciale – don’t worry if some of the water comes with the pasta, this will help make the delicious creamy sauce. Stir the pasta through the guanciale and its melted fat (and any cooking water that came with the pasta) for about half a minute, to make sure it’s well coated.

Tagliatelle in the sauté pan with the guanciale and its melted fat
Tagliatelle in the sauté pan with the guanciale and its melted fat

Pour the pasta and guanciale into the big serving bowl containing the egg yolks, pecorino cheese and black pepper, quickly mixing them with a serving spoon and fork to ensure the pasta is evenly coated in the creamy mixture and no ‘clumps’ form.

Serve and enjoy immediately!

Tagliatelle alla carbonara - Buon Appetito!
Tagliatelle alla carbonara – Buon Appetito!

Tagliatelle alla Carbonara – Gloriously Simple, Gloriously Good!

Coda alla vaccinara | Oxtail vaccinara

Coda alla vaccinara | oxtail vaccinara - served with mashed potatoes

Coda alla vaccinara is a typical Roman dish. ‘Alla vaccinara’ (vaccinara-style) denotes that it is a dish done in the traditions of the ‘vaccinari’ – the slaughterhouse workers of Rome, where many delicious traditional Roman recipes originate as the slaughterhouses came up with ways to use up all the parts of the animals they slaughtered.

As with most traditional recipes, there are hundreds of variations as each family has their own way of doing it. All variations based on the traditional recipe do, however, have the tomato and the celery in common. This particular recipe is my nonna Wanda‘s version, so eating it brings back happy memories and so much love!

When my zia Emila (my youngest auntie) was about to move out of the family home because she was getting married, she wrote down all her favourite recipes. I love that she still uses that original cookbook of hers and that she shares them with me 🙂

Here is a photo of the page with nonna Wanda’s Coda alla Vaccinara recipe, transcribed by zia Emilia all those years ago (shared with permission from and my gratitude to my zia Emilia):

Hand-written 'coda alla vaccinara' recipe, written down by my auntie (zia Emilia) many years ago as she was about to get married and leave home.
My nonna Wanda’s recipe for Coda alla Vaccinara – transcribed into her ‘leaving home’ cookbook by my zia Emilia

This recipe is very easy to make, but it does take time as it has to cook for about 2.5-3 hours – until the meat is beginning to fall off the bones! It’s also not for the faint-hearted…it’s very rich as oxtail is a very fatty meat. But that’s what makes it so deliciously tasty and tender.

I have remained as true as possible to my grandmother’s recipe – I’ve replaced the ‘Gradina’ (a brand of margarine) with butter, which my zia Emilia also does. And I’ve used just 30g of butter rather than 150g as the meat makes the dish quite fatty already. For the same reason (and for reasons of availability and cost in the UK), I have omitted the ‘lardo’. Note: Lardo is not the same as lard. Lardo is a cured product (like pancetta, Italian hams, guanciale etc); it’s the fatty part of the pork found under the skin, typically in the neck or back region, seasoned with lots of salt and sometimes herbs (as always, there are regional variations and variations from individual butchers) and left to cure over time. It is delicious sliced very thinly and served over rustic brown bread 🙂 I have also used a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes, which is slightly more than my nonna Wanda’s recipe called for.

Typically, you would eat the sauce with pasta as a ‘primo piatto’ – the first course of a meal – followed by the meat as a ‘secondo’ – the second course. My appetite isn’t quite up to that these days, so we’ve had ours as an only course, served with mashed potatoes (delicious to mop up all that tasty sauce).

Ingredients for Oxtail vaccinara-style for 4 generous portions

  • Approximately 1.8kg of oxtail
  • 1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 30g butter or margarine
  • 1 small onion or a small piece of onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 whole head of celery
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 small glass (150-200ml) dry white wine
  • 2 small glasses (300-400ml) warm water
  • sea salt – to taste

Method – how to cook Coda alla Vaccinara

Finely chop the onion, garlic and 1 trimmed celery stalk. Heat up the butter/margarine in a large sauté pan or casserole dish, then add the chopped onion, garlic and celery and the bay leaf and gently fry these off in the butter/margarine over a low heat for about 5-10 minutes, until they are nice and soft. Keep the heat low so they don’t caramelise.

Sauté pan with finely-chopped onion, garlic and celery and a whole bay leaf frying off in butter or margarine as the first step to cooking coda alla vaccinara.
Frying off the chopped onion, garlic, celery and a whole bay leaf for the coda alla vaccinara

Turn up the heat and add the oxtail pieces, browning them off all over for a few minutes, then pour over the wine and turn down the heat. Leave them to simmer, uncovered, over a low heat for 15 minutes.

Coda alla vaccinara | oxtail vaccinara - browning the meat and simmering in white wine
Browning the meat and simmering with white wine

Pour over the chopped tomatoes and add the warm water. Season with salt (careful not to over-season as the sauce will cook down a lot). Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to very low, cover with a lid and leave to simmer for 2.5-3 hours, until the meat nearly falls off the bones. Turn the pieces of oxtail over 2-3 times during the cooking process.

Coda alla vaccinara | oxtail vaccinara - adding the tomatoes and water
Adding the tomatoes and water before leaving to simmer

While the meat is cooking, trim the remaining celery stalks, then chop them into large pieces (about 7cm long) – typically you would get about 3 pieces out of each celery stalk. Boil the celery pieces in a pan and take them out when they are soft but not falling apart. Set them aside until the oxtail is nearly ready.

When you just have 10 minutes to go until the meat is ready to serve, add the cooked celery to the pan with the oxtail, stir it in and leave it to finish cooking.

Coda alla vaccinara | oxtail vaccinara - cooked (in the pan)
Coda alla vaccinara | oxtail vaccinara – cooked

Serve and enjoy!

Coda alla vaccinara | oxtail vaccinara - served with mashed potatoes
Coda alla vaccinara | oxtail vaccinara – served with mashed potatoes

Coda alla vaccinara | Oxtail vaccinara-style … Gloriously Simple, Gloriously Good!