Frozen cavatelli is better than dried. Since this shape is thick and doughy, the dried version tends to get overcooked on the outside before it's done inside. If you can't find cavatelli in the freezer section of your grocery store, a chunky dried pasta such as rigatoni will also be excellent here. Use the same quantity.
3 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan, plus more for serving
How to Make It
In a large deep frying pan or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over moderate heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a fork, until it is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to moderately low and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan. Stir in the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, mint, parsley, water, salt, and 1 pinch of the saffron. Simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the cavatelli with the remaining pinch saffron until just done, 10 to 15 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Drain the cavatelli and toss with the meat sauce, the basil, the reserved pasta water, and the cheese. Serve with additional Pecorino Romano.
Sausage Substitutes: If you can't find hot Italian sausage, use ground pork or mild sausage and a quarter teaspoon of dried red-pepper flakes.
Wine Recommendation: Red wines from Sardinia are almost impossible to find in the U.S., but a sturdy Cirò, made across the water in Calabria from the gaglioppo grapes, will be a fine substitute.
Quick From Scratch Italian
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This was a GREAT meal. The sauce was so simple but the flavor was outstanding. For the Italian sausage, I made my own using 1 lb of ground chicken thighs with fennel seed, garlic, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
I served the sauce with homemade cavatelli from this recipe: http://www.eatingcleveland.com/2007/06/17/how-to-make-cavatelli-pasta-by-hand/
Making the cavatelli by hand was a chore but the stores around here didn't have cavatelli in any form.
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