Saturday, April 10, 2010

Creating My Own Delicious Pasta Sauce

One of my favorite restaurants in the Washington, DC, area is Filomena Ristorante in Georgetown. I love how it is able to feel like a fancy, family-style Italian restaurant. It always decorates over-the-top for upcoming holidays, but it still feels tasteful and sophisticated. You see a lot of the D.C. social and political scene there. While the food is expensive, it is delicious. I've had many a wonderful dinner there with lots of friends.

I have several favorite dishes there. One is Penne con Salsicce. The description is:

When U2’s Bono ate this pasta dish here, he wanted seconds!
Penne Pasta tossed with roasted & ground Italian Sweet Sausage, sautéed Mushrooms, Onions, Herbs and Chianti Wine in a Abruzzi Country Style hearty Tomato Sauce with sautéed Link Sausage Pieces. $23.95

After I had this dish a few times, I challenged myself to try to recreate the sauce. While it may not be the same recipe, I have come up with a sauce that I absolutely love and I also think is healthy and doesn't challenge my diet. I will warn you that it's not a simple operation. I've only made it when I'm doing a marathon cooking session and already have committed to making the Cooking Light Marinara Sauce that I use in it. The Marinara Sauce makes 12 cups. 5 of them go into a lasagna recipe, 3 into a Chicken, Chickpea and Pasta Stew recipe, and the remaining 4 (or whatever is left - I never measure it) are added to the delicious sausage and veggie pasta sauce I created.

My Own Fabulous Sausage and Veggie Pasta Sauce


Onions (3-5 - usually yellow)
Garlic (lots)
Combination of bell peppers - as many colors as possible based on what looks good at the grocery store (4-6)
Mushrooms (1-2 containers)
Italian Sausage (2 containers, see note below)
Large Cans of Tomato Puree (2-3)
Spices: Italian spice mix, basil, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper (about a teaspoon each of the first 4, less of the last two. If I want more of a kick, I'll add red pepper flakes.)
Cooking Light Marinara Sauce
Whole Wheat Pasta

I start the sausage and veggie pasta sauce by sauteing vegetables in olive oil (either sprayed on the pan or a little poured in.) First, the chopped onions. Then I add garlic. Followed by a combination of different color bell peppers based on what looks good at the grocery store. I like the color combination it adds and try to have at least three of the following types: green, red, yellow, orange. I then add chopped mushrooms.

If I'm going for a rustic feel for the sauce, I hand chop all the veggies in different sizes. Other times, I use the food processor and chop them so finely that you're almost not aware when you look at the sauce how many different veggies are in it. Both ways are delicious, but the texture and feel can be different.

After sauteing the veggies for a while (at least 5-10 minutes), I then add the sausage and saute it. I use two containers (usually a container has 7 links now - used to be 8) of Italian Sausage - sometimes sweet, sometimes hot, sometimes both, sometimes all turkey, sometimes half turkey and half regular Italian sausage. Again it depends on my mood.

After the sausage is browned, I add 2 - 3 cans of 28 oz. tomato puree (start with 2). I stir it and add my spices. Again this can vary. I'll add an Italian spice mix. Sometimes additional oregano, basil, salt and pepper. If I have fresh herbs (usually basil, parsley and/or rosemary), I add it at this point too. I stir it and then add a cup of red wine - usually an Italian one. I sometimes forget the wine, and the sauce is still good. The wine does add a boldness, depth or robustness to the sauce that I really like. I let the flavors "steep" while it simmers for at least 15 minutes. I Finally, I add whatever is remaining of the Cooking Light Marinara Sauce.

I stir it up and taste it. If it's missing anything (such as a spice or flavor from the wine or even another can of tomato puree), I add more of it. If I want to give it more of a kick, I'll add some red pepper flakes. I'll then simmer it a little longer. I serve the sauce over whole-wheat penne, rigatoni or other pasta. It's a hearty sauce, so I like to use bigger noodles than spaghetti.

Like any sauce, it's better the next day. It also freezes well. I freeze a big container of the sauce and individual servings of the sauce covered by a cup of whole wheat pasta. I've served this sauce to many people and it's always a big hit.

Do you create your own dishes? Do you have any that you'd like to brag about or share the recipe?

Michelle Butler has made becoming a healthy writer a priority. She lives, works and writes in the Washington, DC, area. You can follow her on twitter at


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