There’s no substitute for a juicy, full flavored 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 would pluck one off the vine and eat it like an apple while I stood there watching, both fascinated and shocked at the same time. Heirloom tomatoes remind me of my Grandma’s tomatoes – the way I wish all tomatoes could be.
I made this recipe in New York City a few weeks ago for my daughter’s 21st birthday dinner. It met her criteria of favorite ingredients and mine for preparation – the fewest ingredients possible to make it worth making. I went a little out of my way and brought Isernios brand Italian chicken sausage with me in a little cooler with ice packs on the airplane – I wasn’t sure I would find it easily there and it’s our favorite. Okay a little crazy but worth it to me. You can use any Italian style sausage you prefer – in the casing or ground and in a package.
There’s not much cooking time involved. Just browning 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 helps impart their flavor in the oil. Then stirring in the cooked hot pasta and allowing it to sit a few minutes partially cooks the tomatoes to bring out even more flavor.
We were able to spend the day out shopping and having lunch and returned only an hour and a half before our guests were coming for dinner to put this recipe and a few other things together. That’s why I love this recipe.
- 1 cup chopped onion
- ½ cup, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
- 1 pound Italian chicken sausage (I prefer Isernio's brand)
- 2 to 3 Heirloom tomatoes, chopped
- ⅓ - ½ cup chopped fresh basil
- 12 ounces Orechiette pasta or other shaped pasta
- 8 ounces small fresh mozzarella balls or large balls cut into bite size pieces
- Kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Cook onions in ½ cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until softened and lightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add garlic; cook and stir just until softened but not browned, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, stir in tomatoes and basil and set aside.
- Remove casing from sausage. Cook and stir in 1-2 tablespoons remaining olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, breaking into bite size pieces until cooked through.
- Cook Orechiette in boiling salted water according to package directions; drain then gently stir into tomatoes and allow sitting a few minutes. Stir in mozzarella and cooked sausage; season with salt and pepper.