A love affair with pasta and tomato sauce is lifelong, and new variations are always intriguing. My summer staple is a simple marinated fresh tomato sauce, which never sees a lick of heat except the gentle heat of the pasta. I'm also in love with spaghetti all'amatriciana, a distant cousin of pasta carbonara made with onion, chili, guanciale or pancetta, and of course, tomato. Yet I'd never seen the following recipe, billed as a Sardinian specialty, from a place where sausage and saffron are often used in recipes.
The saffron adds its unmistakable aroma and mellow earthiness that complements the tomatoes well; spicy chili flakes and fresh herbs give it a warmth and freshness. Normally I'd hesitate to use saffron in anything other than a paella or risotto alla Milanese, where its flavor is front and center (the stuff is pretty expensive). But Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman hardly ever miss; this recipe is adapted from their book Pasta Fresca. Other than doubling the amount of meat called for, I wouldn't change a thing.
Sardinian Sausage Sauce
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
- Small handful chopped Italian parsley
- 1 pound ground pork (or mild Italian sausage, casings removed)
- 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
- Generous pinch saffron
- 1 can (28-ounce) whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
- Salt to taste
- 1 pound pasta, such as cavatelli
- Freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese
In the meantime, heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat, then add the onion, garlic, parsely, chili flakes, and half the basil. Once the onion softens, add the pork and saffron. Cook gently until the meat loses its raw color.
Add the tomatoes and a pinch of salt. Simmer until it thickens and the flavors blend. Season to taste.
In the meantim, bring a large pot of salty water to boil. Cook the pasta until al dente. Combine with the sauce and serve with remaining basil and Pecorino cheese.