You've had to have noticed that my restaurant reviews have dwindled in December. They'll be back in January with a heavy focus on eating right while dining out, but in the meantime we've been looking for ways to whip up quick, hearty, delicious and inexpensive meals in the interim.
And wouldn't you know it? Red Pack tomatoes came to our rescue. They'd approached me a while back asking if I'd review their canned tomatoes. Originally I'd politely declined because the nature of my blog, as you know, is Pittsburgh restaurant reviews. But because I've decided to occasionally delve in to the world of home cooking, I figured "why not?" I love, love LOVE tomatoes (I've even been known to eat them like apples) but I'm not typically big on using canned. So it was worth a shot to check out Red Pack and see how they shape up!
A few short days later this awesome little kit showed up at my door:
But the main basis behind this post is how to create a dish super cheap, super fast, and super delicious. I have no doubt about the delicious part, but for me super fast and super cheap meant utilizing only what I already had in my pantry.
So I'm excited to share with you the fastest, easiest and most delectable recipe I can for those nights you're running behind like PID and I so often are. Six simple ingredients, 12 quick minutes. Boom.
So we'll start at the beginning. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. When I do this, I often like to add olive oil and salt to a) keep the pasta from sticking and b) give it a touch of predetermined flavor.
Start with your hot Italian sausage because you'll want to throw that in the skillet first. I like to chop my sausage when I'm going to sautee it with veggies because it renders the juice that way to flavor them. (If you're simply cooking sausage to serve on it's own, DON'T chop them first like this. Keep the juices in tact so they emerge when you bite in to it). So just take four sausages and chop them in to one inch "links." Heat a fry pan with olive oil to a medium heat until it's hot enough to flow around the pan freely. Then plop your sausage in the pan and get 'em cooking!
At this time, your water should be boiling. I had nest pasta on hand, but any angel hair or spaghetti will do. If you use straight pasta, I always like to live by the rule that 1 fistful = 4 people. So for two, use about a half a handful and break it in half before tossing it in the pot. This'll make life easy for your fork and save you from that awkward, tedious "pushing the pasta in to the boiling water" step.
Then you'll quickly move on to your veggies. I was lucky enough to have diced onions on hand, but if you don't, I'd suggest chopping them last in case you're like me and have to leave the kitchen due to tear overload. Also, your onions will maintain more flavor the longer they are in tact. If you do this though, I'd wait until you begin the onion to throw the sausage in the skillet.
I'm going to teach you how to prepare a pepper the way mama TOP taught me. It starts with three simple steps:
1.) chop top
2.) chop bottom
You'll only need half of each pepper and you'll want to chop each in to 1" pieces. Once your veggies are chopped, throw the onions, red and green peppers in to the pan. Truth be told, a little minced garlic wouldn't be so bad to add. But I wasn't in the mood.
Once my peppers and sausage were cooking away, I finally broke in to the Red Pack! I opened the can and instantly an amazing and surprising aroma leapt out. I say surprising because again, I'm not accustomed to canned tomatoes. So when I could smell fresh tomatoes the moment the can was open, It made me feel a bit more comfortable. Then, I'll be honest, I bit in to one the moment I took it out of the can. Unconventional? Probably frowned upon? Maybe. But it tasted pretty darn good. I won't venture so far as to say it tricked me in to thinking it didn't come from a can, but it certainly shattered my aforementioned opinion of canned tomatoes. And already peeled for me? Perfect, thanks!
So with the tomatoes, I quartered them and tossed 5 in to a small pot with a cup of my favorite red sauce and a cup of the leftover juices from the can of Red Pack. I brought it to a simmer, then turned the heat down to low to keep it warm. I thought about it for about two seconds and realized I needed to season it. So I spun my herb lazy-susan around and landed on one of Brother PID's Christmas gifts from Penzey Spices in the Strip District!
As soon as your pasta is done (How do you tell? Simply use a fork to pull out one strand of pasta and fling it at the cupboard. Did it stick? It's done!) grab a colander and strain it, then immediately plate. Give your sausage and veggies a quick stir and, if you feel comfortable with their "doneness" place a heaping spoonful on top of the pasta. Then, pour the sauce and tomatoes on top to seal in the flavor!
This may have seemed like a long post, but let me break it down to show you just how easy it is:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/3 tsp salt
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons diced or 1/3 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minded (optional)
4 links Hot Italian Sausage, sliced in to one inch pieces
1 small can Red Pack whole peeled tomatoes, quartered, juices reserved
1 cup of your favorite tomato sauce
1 tsp herbs de province or similar dried herb
4-5 tbs grated Parmesean cheese
1.) bring water, salt and 1 tbs oil to a boil
2.) add pasta, cook until limp
3.) heat remaining tbs oil in fry pan to medium heat
4.) add sausage to fry pan
5.) cook 1-2 minutes, allowing to brown on one side
6.) flip sausage, add vegetables and garlic
7.) heat tomato sauce, tomatoes, and remaining juice from tomato can in a small pot to medium heat
8.) stir in herbs and reduce heat to low
9.) plate pasta, add meat and vegetables
10.) pour tomato mixture over dish, add parmesean cheese
Literally this dish took barely more than 15 minutes from start to table and cost me absolutely nothing -- but wouldn't cost much more than a few dollars if you had to shop for the ingredients. It's absolutely wonderful if you're short on time or dough and doesn't taste too shabby either! PID gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up...
And TOP DAWG was admiring the aroma, hoping and praying we'd drop a forkful.
The best part about this little endeavor was overcoming my fear of canned tomatoes. Red Pack, I need to thank you for making me a believer. They seriously are bursting with flavor and are very obviously a very high quality product at a very affordable price. I admit defeat...and excitement.
And the great thing about this dish as it stands on it's own. Who needs a side dish when you've got this much substance and this much flavor? This superhero meal works alone.
So until next time, enjoy cooking cheap, fast and hearty :)
**Red Pack Tomatoes provided me with samples and other goodies in order to facilitate a review. All opinions are honest and my own and this post was written solely by me**