Clayton’s been working hard on the farm, poor boy; he’s coming home all spattered with mud, smelling like livestock, with a big fat tired grin on his face. Today he got bit in the ass by a goat, he carried around fluffy baby lamb, played with the freshly hatched baby chicks, moved a whole chicken coop, sloped hogs, etc. Tonight I needed to whip together a hearty something something to make my man’s man all fortified for his supreme acts of labor, and I thank Mario Batali for introducing me to this super simple super satisfying dinner on the fly. I, of course, did my own thing to it, but the concept is based on something I saw him make on one of his old shows on the FoodNetwork over a decade ago. The macaroni is obvious: noodles, and squiggly ones to boot! The “alla telefono” refers to the stretchy stringy cords of fresh mozzarella cheese melted into this delicious pasta and sausage baked dish. With my quick-made basil marinara sauce, dinner is red and good and gooey and rich and fresh and hot and yummy and awesome. ‘Nuff said.
Macaroni alla Telefono
1 lb sweet Italian sausage
1 stalk celery
1 small onion
4 cloves garlic
a handful of fresh basil
2 tbs tomato paste
1 large can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
2 cups noodles (your choice, but something squiggly works best)
salt and pepper
fennel seeds (optional)
caraway seeds (optional)
I was cheeky today, I admit it. I noticed that Savenor’s afternoonFacebook posting was a link to a blog – an excellent blog, to be sure – but it got me thinking: I gots me a blog, and I shop at Savenor’s, too. Methinks perhaps I just need to say “Here’s what I do with your meats, yo’” (to mix my vernaculars) and maybe they’ll dig my blog, too. So I slid the stud behind the counter my cool biz card, and I’m sure any day now they’ll offer me half their profits to compensate for all you rich browsers discovering them through my portal into the world of FOOD. That’s right. Lolita’s a trendsetter, she is. Today I bought my cheese (they were out of fresh mozzarella, but burrata served the purpose of both ricotta and mozz at the same time), my sausage (which was heavenly), my tomato paste, and a loaf of french bread at their Cambridge joint. After slipping the dude my card. In shameless self-promotion. ‘Cuz that’s how I roll.
I start with a simple mirepoix and minced garlic and stir it around in a hot oiled pan.
I add a few dashes of sea salt, some cracked black pepper, and a teaspoon each of fennel seeds and caraway seeds. I toss this around for a few moments to toast and soften.
I’d left the camera on; Clayton walked by at a random moment, and saw this image in the viewfinder. I agreed it was… compelling. So I snapped. And so I share. My stemless wine glass dripping with cava, our scratched kitchen table surface, and one of Clayton’s paintings coloring the background.
To my pan I add two tablespoons of tomato paste. I blend it well with my sauteed veggies.
I add my can of crushed tomatoes, blend well, and let this mixture simmer, covered, for the next 20-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, I’ve heated a glug or glugs of EVOO in a pan, and now I’ve laid my fresh sausage over the sizzle. I’m going to rotate them regularly, so that they cook evenly through without splitting with too much heat drying out and fracturing the membrane. Using tongs…
… I roll my sausages…
… every minute or so, just as the surfaces start to brown…
…and I finish off with some wrist-flip rolling, until my sausages are perfectly golden all over their little cylindrical bodies, all plump and toasty, all heated fully through, still bursting with savory pork juices. Oh mama.
See? As I slice my sausages, they ooze with juices and are perfectly cooked throughout, without being too browned and blistered on the outside. And as I sneak a mouthful, and one for Clayton, we revel in the peppery, garlicky, flavorful, distinctive deliciousness before I…
… dump them disks into my thick rich tomato sauce.
I stir this all up, then add a handful of ripped fresh basil leaves to the blend, and I turn off the heat.
I’ve boiled off my pasta to just slightly underdone (I always think of Joyce’s “Underdone’s”), since they’re going to bake for a while, which will bring them to just the right al dente.
I mix this all up real good like. *Real* good like.
This plump ball of mozzarella (a wee wee bit rubbery at just the apex of the curve) stuffed with ricotta ended up being the *perfect* diary for dinner. It comes from “The Mozzarella House” in Everett, MA — but they’ve got no website! Technological deficiencies aside, their cheese is damn good (even if a little pricey, at $7.99 in comparison to Trader Joe’s more consistently produced, just as tasty, $2.99 8oz portion). Anyway, the mozz will melt and stretch, and the ricotta will melt and cream. I slice it, then roughly chop it, then scoop it up with the flat of my blade and…
… dump it into my hot saucesausagepasta. I mix this up real good like…
… and I scoop it into an oiled baking dish, and throw it into a 350° oven for 15 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, I slice my beautiful baguette down the middle and cut it into planks. I douse each slice’s surface with melted butter, sprinkle them with garlic powder, and grate some fresh parmigiano reggiano on top, then stick this on a sheet pan over parchment paper into the oven (which is already baking off my pasta) to toast.
I pull my pastabake out when I see the bubbling heat crawling up the sides of my glass baking dish. This is about 15 minutes later. This is about 10 minutes away from being devoured.
As I spoon the warm deliciousness into my bowl, I can show you why this is called “alla telefono” — see how the mozzarella stretches into supple cords, like telephone wires, as I serve up my dish? It’s almost a struggle; I have to use another spoon to cut the wires, or they’d stretch, it seems, until eternity.
Spoonfuls of macaroni and mozzarella and tomato goodness are perfectly gloopy, with firm springy noodles laced with rich sauce, dotted with savory sausage, and threaded with creamy chewy cheese. Served with buttery baked cheesy garlic bread, served with love, served with hard working man man in mind. Clayton husband needed something from the heart to fill his stomach, and judging by the love-looks he’s been shooting my way since we walked away from the dinner table, he’s happy as can be. Mission accomplished!