Rachel Roddy’s Italian sausage with tomato and pepper sauce recipe | A Kitchen in Rome (2024)

I bought my copy of Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking from The Almost Corner bookshop in Rome. With a new soft-covered edition under my arm, I walked down Via del Moro, exquisite and grubby, sat down on the even grubbier steps of the fountain in Piazza Trilussa and started reading it like a novel, all the while folding back corners on recipes and underlining sentences I can still chant with ease: “flavour in Italian dishes builds up from the bottom”; “food is best when it tastes fully of itself”; “never put anchovies into very hot oil – they will harden instead of dissolving and may turn bitter”; “an imperfectly made soffritto will impair the flavour of a dish no matter how carefully the following steps are carried out”... all of which feels like wisdom for life, not just for food. Some cookbooks inspire, but leave you sitting on the sofa. Others propel you into the kitchen, though you are not quite clear what you should be doing. Marcella inspires, prepares, propels and then stands next to you as you cook. Kitchen company indeed.

I went home and made a soffritto for soup; then, that night, rice with butter, mozzarella, parmesan and basil, because her introduction to the recipe reads: “Butter and cheese melting into a bowl of hot boiled rice is one of the unsung heroes of Italian food.” She is right.

I proceeded to cook my way through the book, jumping back and forth enthusiastically, relishing her wisdom, clear views and, most of all, that her recipes really work: chops with wine and sage, potato and green bean cake, her tomato, onion and butter sauce, chicken hunter’s style, braised veal shank, minestrone, pasta with red pepper and sausages, ricotta pastry, glazed carrots, baked aubergine with cucumber (curious, but good) ...

Because Marcella is so clear about the principles of cooking – her sharp, never soggy observations pointing to exactly what should and is happening – it encourages you to do the same, adding your notes to hers. That isn’t to say I don’t have issues with Marcella, and her beef stock. She can, at times, feel like an opinionated friend, or a brilliant but demanding teacher: a little too dogmatic, slightly exhausting. Her rice offers comfort and nourishment, but her words often don’t – for me a least.

That said, Marcella is never on the shelf, rather on my desk or loitering in the kitchen. Even when I am making a recipe I know so well it is second nature, as much mine as hers, I still have her book open, though its soft cover and weight means it regularly flumps behind the worktop like a slinky. It is a book that keeps providing me with new favourites, while old ones play on – especially the tomato sauce and buttered rice, now with my notes next to hers – “handful of peas v good”, “rice must be really hot so stuff melts”, “lots of S&P”...

If Marcella’s tomato, onion and butter sauce is Take 4 (the fourth ingredient being salt), pasta with pepper and sausages is Take 6; memorably: 6 tbsp oil, 5 tomatoes, 4 sausages, 3 red peppers, 2 pinches of salt and chilli, and 1 onion. It is a lovely bit of everyday alchemy; fundamentals in a pan: the onion fried in olive oil providing the foundations, to which you add sausage, more flavour and substance; then the peppers, which turn from crisp to silky; then lastly the fresh tomatoes, which bubble and thicken into a rich sauce, thickened further with cheese if you wish. It is a sauce in which ingredients taste like themselves, but come together beautifully. You can make this dish all year long with tinned tomatoes and out-of-season peppers, but in summer it comes into its own, made with vegetables whose red is a result of soaking up plenty of sunshine.

I am cooking and writing this a long way from home. This was dinner for my mum and dad in the garden the other day, sheep bleating noisily on Colmers Hill. While the pasta was slightly al dente for Dad, the sauce, was – as always – relished, with mum asking for the recipe. As we know, good recipes are like good news, happily passed on. Thank you, Marcella.

Pasta with red peppers and sausages

Serves 4
1 small red or white onion
3 red peppers
4 pork sausages
6 tbsp olive oil
2 pinches each of salt and red chilli pepper
5 ripe tomatoes
400g pasta, such as paccheri, rigatoni, penne or papardelle
Parmesan, grated, to serve

1 Bring a large pan of water to boil for the pasta. Peel and finely slice the onion, and prepare the peppers by cutting out the stalk, opening them up and trimming any white pith and seeds, then cutting the flesh into 2-3cm squares. Slice the casing from the sausages and squeeze out the meat .

2 Over a medium-low heat, fry the onion in the olive oil with a small pinch of salt until soft and translucent. Add the chilli and sausage meat, crumbling it with your fingers, then fry, breaking the pieces up with the back of a wooden spoon until the meat is no longer pink – which will take a few minutes. Add the peppers, another pinch of salt and cook – stirring every now and then, for another 10 minutes.

3 Meanwhile, once the pasta water is boiling, use it to skin the tomatoes, plunging them in for a minute, lifting them out with a slotted spoon and then running under cold water, at which point the skins should have split and will pull away easily. Chop the tomatoes roughly and add to the pan. Cook for another 15 minutes or until the sauce is rich and thick and the peppers are very soft.

4 Add salt to the boiling water, stir, then add the pasta and cook until al dente. In a large bowl, mix the pasta with the sauce, tossing in some grated parmesan if you wish, then serve.

Rachel Roddy is a food writer and author based in Rome. She is the recipient of the 2017 Guild of Food Writers cookery and food writing awards. Her new book, Two Kitchens: Simple family cooking from Sicily and Rome, is out now (Saltyard); @racheleats

Rachel Roddy’s Italian sausage with tomato and pepper sauce recipe | A Kitchen in Rome (2024)
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