Rigatoni col Sugo Piccante di Salsiccia

Rigatoni with Spicy Sausage Sauce

This is a sauce picked up, as it were, on a walk in the woods. It had been a good day for walking, and Victor and I wandered past our lunchtime into the early afternoon. Famished, we retreated to the nearest hamlet, a dozen houses, one of which had a sign: Bar Panini. Panini—sandwiches—are not what my husband considers food, but we had no other choice. Men were sitting at wooden tables, drinking grappa, talking about football. A pleasant, open-faced woman was behind the counter. My husband turned to her with his warmest gaze and pleaded, “Isn’t there anything besides panini one can eat?” “Yes, if you can wait twenty minutes,” she smiled back. It was closer to thirty minutes, but we sat down to a plate of pasta that tasted like the best food on earth.

She had browned bits of spicy sausage in sweet homemade butter and garlic and added tomatoes she had sent a little boy to pick from the garden back of the house. It’s a long story for a quick sauce, but it illustrates the impromptu nature of what to me is the best kind of Italian cooking.

In my version of the sauce there is no spicy sausage because I have never found any in America that wasn’t loaded with odd, inappropriate flavors. For it I have substituted the combination of the plainest sausage one can buy with chopped hot pepper to taste.

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  • pounds fresh, very ripe tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • ½ pound sweet breakfast sausages, skinned
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon hot red pepper, or to taste
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan)


  1. Skin the tomatoes with a peeler, split them in half, scoop out most of the seeds, and cut them up coarse.
  2. Put the butter and garlic in a sauté pan and turn on the heat to medium. When the garlic becomes colored a pale gold, add the skinned sausages, crumbling them fine in the pan with a fork. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the sausage is well browned.
  3. Add the tomatoes, turn up the heat to high, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 or more minutes, until the fat separates and floats free. Taste and correct for salt and mix in the hot pepper.
  4. Drop the pasta into a pot of abundant boiling salted water. When it is barely tender but firm to the bite, drain and toss immediately with the sauce and the grated cheese. Serve at once.