I've been making pasta like this for about as long as I can remember, so I never thought of it being something I could translate into a recipe. As we were inhaling it the other day though I thought to myself, why not? It probably seems insanely easy to me because I've made it over 100 times (probably just really easy for some), but maybe others will take it as something slightly different from their go-to weeknight meals.
So, here it is, in all its simplistic and kinda cheating glory. My daughter has always loved this dish, and I usually make it right before the weekend hits so that she and my husband will have something more nutritious to eat while I'm at work besides blueberry scones from our local coffee place. It keeps really well in the fridge for up to 4 days, or you can definitely freeze it up to 2 months. Toss it into some airtight containers and into the freezer, and you have some homemade frozen dinners!
1 lb Trader Joe's high fiber penne (or your favorite tubular pasta)
1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce plus 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes w/ no salt added OR
1/2 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce plus 1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes w/ no salt OR
1 28 ounce + 1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes... no salt added
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled
12 - 16 ounces button or cremini mushrooms, quartered or thickly sliced, your preference
2 small zucchini peeled (optional) and sliced into half moons
1/2 medium or 1 small onion, finely chopped
1 lb sun dried tomato and basil chicken sausage OR your favorite chicken sausage OR
leave it out
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
Place a large pot of water on the stove and crank the heat to get it boiling. Place your largest (I use a 16" round and 2.5" deep saute pan) pan over medium heat and get your olive oil in. Add the onion with a pinch of kosher or sea salt and stir occasionally for about 5 minutes.
While your onion is softening up, toss your garlic into a food processor and pulse till well chopped. Add the canned diced tomatoes and process till relatively smooth. If you don't have a food processor, a blender or immersion blender would work too, just don't let it go for too long. Let the tomato/garlic puree hang out while you prepare the rest of the sauce.
Add the mushrooms to the somewhat softened onion with a pinch of salt and saute till they release most of their moisture. Add the zucchini and cook for about 4 minutes. It'll look about like this:
Remove the sausage from its casing and break it into pieces as you add it to the pan. Cook for about 6 minutes, mashing the sausage with the back of a wooden spoon to break it up a bit. If you like your sauce extra chunky, leave it be.
Add the tomato/garlic puree to the veg and sausage. Let it cook for a few minutes before adding the spaghetti sauce (if using). Reduce heat to low and stir occasionally while you get the pasta going.
By now your water should be at a ripping boil. Add about 1 Tbsp of kosher salt and drop in your pasta. Cook for half of the manufacturers recommended cooking time. Reserve at least 1/2 cup of the pasta water before you drain the par cooked pasta.
Dump the pasta into the sauce (or, if you don't have a pan large enough to accommodate the sauce and pasta, carefully pour the sauce into the pot the pasta cooked in, followed by the drained noodles) and stir pretty much continuously for the remainder of the manufacturer's cooking time. At first it will look like this,
but as it cooks some of the sauce will absorb into the pasta, making it extra tasty, and it will look more like this:
Deeper in color, and much more flavorful than pasta cooked till al dente, then added to the sauce. I read an article by Christopher Kimball of Cook's Illustrated that featured this technique, and it really does works every time. Half the cooking time of whatever pasta you're using, cook it the remaining time in a lovely sauce. Many people say they love pasta even more on the second day... well, that's because it has absorbed a lot of the sauce. You get this result the first time with this dish, which I love.
Turn off the heat and add the butter, stirring well till it is completely melted and combined. You may think to yourself, 'butter in tomato sauce? I'm just going to skip it.' Just try it. It's not life altering, but it makes the dish memorably good, instead of just okay.
Serve with lots of grated Parmesan and share it with people you love. Or even just like a little, since you didn't really break a sweat making this dish.