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85086 Magazine, February 2016, Perfectly Pasta

85086 Magazine, February 2016, Perfectly Pasta



Perfectly Pasta

Mama G (aka Leann Grunwald) on an Italian staple.

Let’s start with rigatoni, a word that comes from the Italian word rigato, which means ridged or lined, and is associated with the cuisine of southern and central Italy.

Rigatoni is a favorite pasta shape in the south of Italy, especially Sicily. They are big tubes of pasta ridged on the outside, with a smooth inside shaped to perfectly grip tomato-based sauces filled with chunks of meat and vegetables. Rigatoncini are a smaller version, close to the size of penne.

Pasta in Italy is usually served in small portions after the first appetizer.

Pasta is very delicate and can easily be overdone. Its success as a dish relies on a simple cooking technique and on incorporating fresh ingredients.

The most traditional method of cooking pasta is in a large pot filled with plenty of fresh water brought to a deep, rolling boil. Using plenty of water allows the pasta to circulate, and seasoning the water is key. Salt the water generously, and when no one is looking, toss in more.

How will you know when you have overdone the salt? Taste as you go. If it tastes like a swim in the ocean, you are doing fabulously. Most of the salt slides right off the pasta but it will impart its essence. Also, the pasta water is later used to salt the entire dish.

Anytime you are making a reduced sauce, you always want to salt at the end, and taste the dish before adding the salted pasta water, as noted in my perfectly pasta recipe to follow. The reason for this is that as the dish reduces, the salt flavor will become much more concentrated. As water evaporates salt concentrates, so tasting before and after will give you the flavor you desire.

Perfectly Pasta

Yield: Serves 6

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ease of Preparation: Simple

Total Time: 35 Minutes



Large pot for boiling water

1          lb. of spicy Italian sausage

Generous amount of olive oil

1/2       tsp. chili flakes

5          cloves of fresh minced garlic

1          tub baby heirloom tomatoes/no substitutions

1          lb. Rigatoni Italian pasta

Sea salt, as desired for pasta

Pepper, as desired for pasta

1/4       cup pasta water

6          oz. fresh arugula

Pecorino Romano Cheese as desired


Place fresh water 3/4 full into large pot ensuring pasta has sufficient room. Season generously with sea salt, this is crucial. Include a splash of olive oil. Bring to a rolling boil. This causes pasta to roll and prevents sticking.

Place pasta into pan, stirring, cover with lid (just until pasta boils) and bring back into a rolling boil for 3 to 4 minutes.

Taste test after 3 minutes, make sure pasta is firm (al dente), with no crunch.

Pour into colander and drain, lightly season with sea salt and pepper. Toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and mix through.


Preheat large cast-iron pan to medium high

Begin sauce by chunking 1 pound of room temperature spicy Italian sausage into desired pieces.

Add olive oil to pan beginning with outer edges to a preheated medium high cast-iron pan. Allow to slightly smoke. Add, sauté, and caramelize the sausage. Add 1/2 teaspoons chili flakes. Add five cloves minced garlic on top and then add one tub of baby heirloom tomatoes cook and cook until the tomatoes wilt. Add cooked and salted al dente pasta.

At this point, taste the dish. It’s important to know the flavor before and after reduction. Add 1/4 cup pasta water and reduce in the pan until evaporated.

Turn off heat and mix in the arugula, allowing it to wilt slightly.

Gently toss, stirring from bottom up.

Remove from heat and add a generous amount of Pecorino Romano Cheese as desired.

Serve directly from cast-iron pan!


  1. Add fresh ingredients at room temperature.
  1. Place sausage into pan and do not stir immediately, allow it to caramelize for a few moments. Do the same for each side.
  1. Scrape the bottom of pan to release flavor bits before adding remaining ingredients. These flavor bits create all the deliciousness.
  1. Don’t allow garlic to sit at bottom of pan. If garlic burns, the dish is ruined.
  1. Please use caution when adding olive oil to pan. Olive oil is a healthier choice but does not have as high a smoking point as other oils. Ensure the pan doesn’t become too hot for too long. I learned this the hard way. Fortunately, my son, a TV chef, was nearby to squash the fire. Did I panic? Absolutely!
  1. The perfect New York Style Italian hot sausage for this dish can be found at Trader Joes. Love me some Trader Joe’s! Please darlin’s, no substitutions.


Al dente: Cooked but still firm

Sauté: To fry quickly in a small amount of fat

Caramelize: To cook (something, such as a fruit or vegetable) slowly until it becomes brown and sweet.

Wilt: To become limp through heat, loss of water.