Verdict: an incredible, low maintenance pasta sauce with vibrant tomatoes, spicy Italian sausage, infused with fennel. One of my favourite recipes of all time.
In the late 90s, the first Western dish to appear on our immigrant table was spaghetti with meat sauce, about ten years after moving to Canada. My mom was the talented cook in the family with a flair for noodle dishes. She made Vietnamese beef noodle soup with the most flavourful and fragrant broth, twenty variations of vermicelli dishes, and the most incredible and awe-inspiring wonton noodle soup. To everyone’s surprise and delight, it was my dad who introduced pasta into our household. His recipe was simple: oil, onions, garlic, ground beef and canned tomato sauce; we kids could never get enough.
Since then, I’ve learned different recipes and techniques to create a great tomato sauce. First, it was the addition of sugar to decrease the acidity of the tomatoes. Years later, I ditched the canned tomato sauce and started using whole canned tomatoes. Through the internet, I read whispers of another secret ingredient: grated carrots for Mario Batali’s classic tomato sauce. His recipe was great! The grated carrots replaced the need for sugar and yielded an interesting addition to my pasta sauce repertoire.
Around the time I discovered the Batali recipe, I came across Jaime Oliver’s Bloke Pasta, which uses chilis and fennel seeds to spice up a lemony sausage pasta dish. I decided to combine the two recipes and haven’t looked back. For a simple, delicious, and unique pasta dish, the recipe presented here is perfection. It is the recipe I will use to introduce pasta to my future children.
There are so many reasons why I keep going back to this wonderful sauce: it is so fresh, hearty and spicy, with the unique combination of tomatoes, sausage, and fennel. This sauce is great on pasta (linguine and rotini are my favourite) or try it over rice for a lighter, gluten free alternative, perfect for summertime dinners.
Spicy Sausage and Leek Pasta
Note 1: this is more “watery” than most tomato sauces since it lacks tomato paste, but I find it also tastes fresher than most.
Note 2: Guide to cutting leeks in case you need it.
Note 3: I’ve tried using ground beef and onions, instead of sausage and leeks, to great success. The guest loved the hearty, fennel infused meat sauce but I secretly longed for the sausage and leeks. The choice is yours!
Serves 6 – 8 | Prep: 15 minutes | Cook: 45 minutes
- 3 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 leeks, chopped *can substitute 1 white onion but won’t be as sweet and mellow
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed with the back of the knife and then sliced
- 1 carrot, peeled and grated with smaller grate hole
- 2 28-oz cans whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 – 2 fresh or dried red chilies, chopped OR ½ tsp dried chili flakes
- 4 – 5 spicy Italian sausages, casings removed
- 1 bell red pepper, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- a bunch of basil, torn
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt to taste
- Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
- Cracked black pepper
1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over MEDIUM heat. Add the chopped leeks and cook until fragrant and soften, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and soft, about 2 minutes. Add the carrot and cook until it is softened, another 3 minutes or so.
2. Add the tomatoes and increase heat to MEDIUM-HIGH; bring tomatoes to a boil. Lower heat to LOW, cover and simmer for at least 30 minutes, gently breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon as they disintegrate into the sauce. I usually mash them up with a potato masher at the end of simmering; you can also puree the sauce in a blender/food processor if you prefer it smooth. You can stop here for a great vegetarian tomato sauce or continue for the meaty version.
3. Meanwhile, heat canola oil over medium heat. You can crush the fennel seeds and chopped red chilies in mortar and pestle if you have the time and equipment (sometimes, I skip it). Add fennel and chilli and fry for about 30 seconds, add the sausage meat and fry, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon until browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer cooked sausage meat to the tomato sauce and simmer, covered, over LOW heat for at least 15 minutes or up to two hour. The longer you simmer, the more tender the meat . (I usually simmer for 20 minutes.)
4. Add red peppers and celery to sauce 5 – 10 minutes before serving so they maintain their crunch. Add salt and taste. Also, add freshly torn basil to sauce immediately before serving.
5. Serve with whole wheat spaghetti, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, cracked black pepper, and extra torn basil.
The sauce may be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 6 months. If you decide to freeze it, freeze in small batches and don’t add salt and pepper until you’re ready to eat.