Sometimes you just want something quick. Something filling. Something comforting. At our house, that usually means pasta. The other day it was (still) snowing out, and I wanted something warm and comforting. Something a little spicy. Something that would make me think of warm climates while it fended off the cold snowy weather. Which is still here, by the way.
I had some merguez sausage and that seemed to be the perfect thing. Before we moved here, I didn’t know this spicy lamb sausage from Morocco. I was really missing something special! They’re used a lot here in Belgium, and we love them. They’re a traditional accompaniment to couscous and often grilled as a part of a mixed grill.
So, lemesee, it was snowing, which meant I had to use what was in the house, 'cause I don't drive in snow. I had merguez. I had some winter tomatoes (I know, but what can you do?), I had some onions. Pasta. Rice. And I had a bunch of fresh tarragon, which was making my kitchen smell like a corner of heaven.
So I used one one onion, two tomatoes and the three merguez to make a sauce--1-2-3 sauce! I wanted something else to add to it, and I didn’t know what I had. I was having a hard time thinking, because the tarragon smelled so good. What could I add--rosemary? No, not right with the merguez spices. Waht else did I have--basil? No, not in the hot sauce. Cilantro? Ew. And all the time I was smelling this lovely, elegant tarragon. Hmmm...
I had grave doubts about adding tarragon to merguez. Merguez has a gutsy, in-your-face spicy flavor, and tarragon always seems to me to be restrained, elegant, in-the-background. But I kept smelling it, and it seemed as if it might work. So I did what I always do when I’m not sure about adding a fresh herb to a sauce. I bit off a tiny bit of the herb and took a good whiff of the sauce at the same time.
You know what? Tarragon, that delicate ladylike perfume in sauce béarnaise, is a pretty gutsy flavor when it’s fresh. It has a strong, licorice flavor that goes PERFECTLY with merguez. I think I may have discovered a new culinary marriage-made-in-heaven, to rank up there with basil and tomato. Or chocolate and raspberry. Tarragon and merguez. It’s amazing. One day I'll be famous. I'll still be me, though. You know, humble. Yeah, that's it.
Did I mention that this is another pasta sauce that can be made in the time that it takes the pasta to cook? My favorite kind of meal! I should also tell you that these photos are of Dan’s plate. I ate mine over rice. As I was writing about the hummus flower and the days when I couldn’t eat wheat, I started to remember how I felt before I stopped eating wheat--tired, achey, bloated, headachey, insomniac, fuzzy-headed, and other-things-you-don’t-really-want-to-know-about. And I realized that I’ve been feeling that way again. So I’ve started avoiding wheat for a while to see if I might feel better. It’s early days yet, but I’ll let you know how it goes.
3 merguez sausages
1 medium onion
2 large tomatoes
1 handful fresh tarragon
1/2 pound pasta, cooked
Fresh grated parmesan for serving
- Put a large pan full of water on high heat for the pasta.
- Cut the merguez into pieces about 2 cm / 1 inch long. In a pan large enough to hold both the sauce and the pasta, cook the merguez over medium high heat until it begins to brown. The casing will shrink, releasing some of the chopped meat. This is a good thing--don’t worry.
- Cut the onion into large-ish chunks. Once the merguez has started to release some of its fat, add the onion and saute along with the sausage. The sausage will release an alarming amount of fat. Don’t worry--we’ll take it out later.
- By now the water should be boiling. Add salt and the pasta. You know how to do this.
- Using a spoon or a turkey baster or whatever tool you have, drain as much of the fat as you can from the sausage and onion mixture. I probably got half a cup from three merguez. Fat little guys.
- Chop the tomato into large chunks and add it to the onion / merguez mixture. Stir to let the tomatoes melt into the sauce.
- Chop the tarragon roughly and add it to the sauce. Stir some more.
- Let the sauce cook till it’s almost dry--too dry, really. Then add a ladle or two or the pasta water, which at this point should have some of the pasta starch in it. This is a secret I learned in Italy--there’s a little bit of magic that happens when the starchy water meets a tomato sauce. Try it. Trust me.
- Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the sauce.
- Top with fresh grated parmesan.
Serves 3 if they like it and 8 if they don’t.
- I used penne for this because it was what I had. This would be better, I think with a wide noodle like pappardelle. But I’m not a purist.
- You could use canned tomatoes in this, but then it wouldn’t be 1-2-3 pasta. It would be something like 1-(half)-3. Ew.
- If you can’t find merguez, you could probably make this with a nice spicy Italian sausage.