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I love a good tomato. My Grandma’s garden at her farm in North Dakota was always overflowing with them. They were deep red colored and soft. My aunt used to pluck one off the vine and eat it like an apple. I would stand there in awe watching her. The heirloom tomatoes that are available to us remind me of my Grandma’s tomatoes. I wish all tomatoes could be so good.
I made this recipe for my daughter’s 21st birthday in my friend’s apartment when I traveled to New York City. It met her criteria of favorite ingredients and mine for preparation – the fewest ingredients possible to make it worth making. There’s not much cooking time involved. Just to brown the sausage (which can be omitted for a vegetarian version) and cooking the onions and garlic to release their flavors. Adding the fresh basil and tomatoes to the cooked onions and garlic in the oil off the heat, helps to impart their flavor in the oil.
Orechiette Pasta with Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil & Sausage
Makes 4-5 servings
1 pound Italian chicken sausage
1-2 tablespoons, plus ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 cup chopped onion
1/3 – 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
12 ounces Orechiette pasta or other shaped pasta
2-3 Heirloom tomatoes, chopped
8 ounces small balls fresh mozzarella cheese or large balls cut into chunks
Fresh ground black pepper
Remove casing from sausage. Brown in 1-2 tablespoons oil in a medium skillet, stirring and turning frequently while breaking into bite size pieces, until cooked through. Remove sausage and keep warm. Drain fat from skillet and lightly wipe the inside with a paper towel.
Pour a small amount from the ½ cup olive oil into the same skillet and cook onion until softened and lightly browned, 3-5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add garlic and cook and stir just until softened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and add remaining olive oil, basil and tomatoes, stir then set aside.
Cook Orechiette in boiling salted water according to package directions; drain then transfer to olive oil, basil and tomatoes and gently stir; allow to sit a few minutes then stir in mozzarella and cooked sausage; season with salt and pepper.
Note: I like to have a wedge of Parmesan Reggiano cheese at the table for grating on top of the pasta.