We had a touch of snow in Chicago about two weeks ago. A light dusting of 20 inches or so, officially. In some places, the snow drifts were a wee bit deeper, around three or four feet. Even the most resolute of Chicagoans preferred staying home while the storm raged outside. For a day or two after the storm, igloo-shaped mounds camouflaged cars, school was cancelled, and roads were impassable. When it was over, we stepped outside and marveled at the silence brought about by the deep heaviness of snow and in the implausible swaths of white that blanketed entire neighborhoods.
Snowstorms and their aftermath call for comforting meals, a kind of cozy sustenance to replenish those who have been shoveling in the cold and wet. For us, that meal is often spaghetti with a meat ragout sauce, not quite as complicated as a Bolognese because I take a big shortcut. I use a good quality pasta sauce from a jar and doctor it, which cuts cooking time down from three hours to half an hour. This recipe lists dried herbs, which are easier to find during winter in Chicago, but fresh herbs may be substituted. It’s simple and surprisingly delicious.
Spaghetti in a Tomato, Sausage, and Mushroom Ragout/Ragù
1 pound spicy Italian sausage, either pork or chicken, depending on preference
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup diced onion
8 oz fresh mushrooms, chopped
1 25-oz jar of pasta sauce (I use an organic basil marinara)
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
¼ cup red wine
½ -1 tsp sugar for balance
¼ tsp of dried chili flakes (optional)
Olive oil for sautéing
Your choice of pasta. We use spaghetti.
Add several tablespoons olive oil to a three or four quart saucepan, and sauté onions until translucent. Add garlic and sausage, making sure to break up the sausage until no large clumps remain. When the sausage has browned, add mushrooms, basil, oregano, and scant amount of salt if needed. Once mushrooms have cooked, add pasta sauce and wine. Adjust salt and sugar if needed, chili flakes if desired, and allow mixture to simmer for 20 minutes. Done. This meat sauce will easily serve 4 hungry adults and may allow for leftovers.
While the mixture simmers, boil water in a separate pan. Add spaghetti and cook according to package directions. Drain pasta and toss with a little olive oil to keep from sticking. Heap on plate. Serve with generous shavings of parmesan cheese and make a salad to help assuage any guilt that might emerge after eating too much. Feel warm and snug, like toes in thick socks. Just what the doctor ordered.