Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Armenian Lamb Sausage Pasta

This is my favorite pasta sauce, more nuanced and flavorful then any I have had at a restaurant.  The lamb flavor is rich and mellow while the cumin adds depth and earthiness without reading as cumin.  If you added cumin directly to pasta sauce it would be more aggressive, less muted.  Because the sausage ingredients are cooked twice, once in the sausage and again in the sauce, they mellow and become more complex.

The sausage and pasta are like the countless articles encouraging us to streamline meal prep by roasting a chicken and making a different entree with the leftovers.  However making the sausage, which has no casing to wrestle with, is easier and faster then roasting a chicken.  So please do not dismiss this pasta dish as too much work; the initial step of making the sausage is not a waste of time on a night you need to make dinner, it is dinner.

The sausages are another favorite meal here, even though they are impossible to photograph attractively.  They are easy to make, take ingredients I always have on hand and taste more complex then their short ingredient list would suggest.  It also doesn't hurt that they make everyone in my family happy.  I often make dishes that I know my children won't eat, I just make sure that there is at least one other dish that they like, that I feel comfortable with them making a meal of. However I sometimes want a cheering section when serving dinner, I want to feel like the kitchen hero. These hand rolled sausages always make me a hero, with children and adults.

This dish is also responsible for an epiphany that has opened many meals to me that my children previously refused to eat, and yes whined about. I realized that I could make dishes like meatballs and meatloaf if I made 2 small changes. Now when I make these dishes I make them sausage shaped. Then I just call them sausages. The usual response from my sausage worshipping children is, "These are good mama, but your lamb sausages are better. The lamb sausage is my favorite."

Armenian Hand Rolled Sausage
Adapted from The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors

Most of the adaptations I have made to this recipe is to make it more pantry friendly.  For example the original recipe calls for evaporated milk, which I did use the first time I mad them (it is amazing what random ingredients are often lurking in my pantry).   There is no discernible difference in flavor when using regular milk and limiting the number of tomato products.  I also upped the cumin, a favorite spice in my house.

1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground lamb
1/2 cup pureed crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce (note: tomato sauce does not mean pasta sauce)
1 cup bread crumbs (I always make my own, often from the ends of bread lying around. Just whirl them in the food processor)
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro or parsley (optional, if I don't have it on hand I just omit this ingredient)
1 Tbsp minced dried onion (do not omit)
1 tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste (at least 1/2 tsp or more to taste)

Mix all the ingredients together.  I find it is best to mix with your hands, squeezing and mixing until really well combined.  Roll meat into balls that are slightly smaller then a tennis ball.  Form into sausage shapes that are about 4 inches by 1 inch long.  It is helpful to wet hands with water while shaping.

Sausages can be grilled or roasted.  If roasting place formed sausages in a shallow baking pan (I use a pyrex lasagna pan) and preheat the oven to 400°  Bake for 20 minutes and transfer to a clean platter to serve.  To grill preheat the grill to high and grill over direct heat until browned and cooked to your taste.

Armenian Lamb Sausage Pasta
Inspired by the leftovers in my fridge with the technique updated by Bon Appetit's  pasta pomodoro

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1/8 tsp hot red pepper flakes (optional)
1 qt crushed tomatoes or 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
tomato sauce leftover from making the sausage
1/2 tsp kosher salt or to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 lb whole wheat pasta (or in my case the quantity of pasta that will be eaten by people who want sauce on theirs)
2 Tbsp butter at room temperature (optional)
1/4 cup grated pecorino romano, grana padano or parmesan (I have only tested it with pecorino romano)

Heat olive oil in a 12" or larger skillet over medium low.  Add the onion and cook, stirring often until soft.  Mine took about 5 minutes but Bon Appetit says 12 minutes, so my heat must have been higher.  Add the chopped garlic and cook for about 2 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant but not toasted or burnt, stirring the whole time.

Add the red pepper flakes and after 1 minute add the 2 types of tomatoes and the sausage.  Squish the sausage with a potato masher into small pieces and add the kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Cook the sauce, stirring occasionally over medium heat.  It will be properly thickened after about 20 minutes total cooking time, but some of that can happen while the pasta is cooking.

While sauce is thickening bring a large pot of water to the boil and generously salt it before adding the pasta.  Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and pasta 2 minutes before it will be done to your taste. Add 1/2 cup of the pasta water to the sauce and bring it to the boil over hight heat.  Add the drained pasta and cook while stirring the pasta and sauce until the pasta is al dente.  Add more reserved pasta water if the sauce is not thin enough.

Remove from the heat and add the butter, stirring until it is all melted.  Add the cheese and stir until the cheese melts and serve.  If anyone wishes for more cheese pass it grudgingly while mumbling about the dish being prefect and now they are going to add more cheese.

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