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Half Marathons, Carb Loading and the FaT Penne with Sausage and Mascarpone

January 13, 2012

Greetings, fellow travelers on the road of life!  As some of you may know, last weekend I decided that instead of driving 13.1 miles of that road of life, I decided to run them at the Disney Marathon weekend.  Now, some of you are thinking, “That’s great!  Running a half marathon is awesome.”  The majority of you are thinking (because I’m sure you’d be too polite to say it out loud, even if it is true), “I don’t like to drive 13.1 miles if I can avoid it!  You have to have a screw loose to RUN that!”

After having made it through, and done it in a respectable time (for me, anyways – 2:27), I can confirm for all of you that you DO in fact need to have a screw loose to do any kind of endurance running.  There has to be something just a little off for you to think training for 3-4 months before the race and then the race is fun.  Then again, since 27,000 of my closest friends joined me in the Disney Half Marathon, I don’t feel quite so isolated.

And, just as a brief aside, if you do the half marathon at Disney, you get a Donald Duck medal.  If you complete the full marathon, you receive a Mickey Mouse medal.  And if you’ve gone completely off the deep end and run both of them (half on Saturday and full on Sunday or 39.3 miles in 2 days), you also get a Goofy medal.  Sad and sick as it may be, I’m thinking I may “go Goofy” next year.  We’ll see.

On to the food.  In the spirit of getting ready for a long run like a half marathon, the experts suggest that a runner “carb load” the night before.  This usually means a light pasta meal of some sort.  I don’t think the experts would call this dish a “light pasta meal”.  However, this is by far, one of my family’s favorite pasta dishes.  The best part is that you can have it ready in just about 30 minutes.  I will tell you, this is one of those meals that is even better the next day after the flavors have had a chance to blend.  Enjoy!

Food as Therapy Penne with Sausage and Mascarpone               (print FaT Penne, Sausage, Mascarpone recipe)

(Inspired by an old Food and Wine recipe from around 2002)

8 servings

1 lb. Hot Italian Sausage

1 lb. Sweet Italian Sausage

1 cup Chopped Onion

1 ¼ cup Whipping Cream

¾ cup Chicken Broth

1 lb. Penne Pasta

2/3 cup Mascarpone Cheese

½ cup grated Parmesan Cheese

Begin by removing the sausage from their casings.  This is as simple as running a knife blade along the top of each sausage and getting your hands a little dirty by removing the insides into a big stock pot or Dutch oven.  Be sure to use a pot that is large enough to hold all the meat and a pound of pasta because this is where everything will be eventually combined.

Once you’ve got both kinds of sausage in the pot, place it over medium heat to brown.  You don’t need any oil here.  There’s plenty of fat and grease in the sausage to help with that.  In fact, we want some of that grease in there for later.

Brown the sausage in the pot making sure to break up the chunks into relatively small pieces with a slotted spoon.  This should take about 10-12 minutes.  When you’re breaking up the sausage, you’re really trying to get break up the occasional big chunk.  The smaller the browned pieces of meat are when you finish, the more easily it will fit into the penne when combined.  (Please don’t become obsessed with breaking every last bit into the smallest possible bits.  It’s not worth the effort.  You just don’t want to be stuck with any meatball-size chunks.  Sorry about the less the ideal picture below.  There was alot of steam rising making a clear shot diffficult.)

Once you’ve got everything nice and browned, you want to strain the sausage to remove some of that grease.  You can see the set up I used below.  I have a bowl with a strainer in that and I use a “hole-y” spoon to scoop the meat out.  Scoop all the meat out and let it drain a bit.  Set it aside.  In the pot, you will find anywhere from 4-7 tablespoons of grease.  We want to use some of that, but all of it is too much.  Dump all but 2 tablespoons.  If you dump too much initially, don’t worry.  You can always take a look in the bowl under the strainer and find a bit of “clean grease”.

At this point, you should start getting another pot (or in my case a relatively deep pan) heated on the stove top to boil enough water to cook your pound of pasta.  If everything works right (and having made this dish at least 10 times tells me it should work), you should have boiling water right when you need it later.  Be sure to salt the water (I usually toss a pinch or two in – I know, I know, how imprecise for an engineer.  So sue me.) and add a bit of oil (see previous note about imprecision of “pinch of salt”).

Return the pot to the heat and pour in your chopped onions.  (You did chop them up before now, didn’t you?!)  Mix them with the drippings (doesn’t that sound so much better than “the left over grease”?) and sauté until light brown.  This should take about 5-7 minutes.  You’ll notice that the moment you mix everything together, the onions will already be a bit brown.  We’re working on getting them nice and soft.  Stick with it for at least 5 minutes.

Now, you add your cream and bring to a boil for 5 minutes.  Stir everything together at the start and step back.  You’re only going to revisit the pot every couple of minutes for a stir.  You don’t have to stand over it, constantly moving everything around for this to work.  Be warned, however, that because you’ve added cream, the boiling liquid will start to rise.  In a deep pot, this is not a problem, but if you’re using something shallower, don’t take your eyes off it too long.

After those 5 minutes are up, add your chicken broth, stir together and bring to a boil.  We’re looking to reduce this to a sauce.  What exactly does that mean?  Excellent question!  Thanks for asking.  It means boiling for about 8-10 minutes.  I have always heard that a sauce will “coat the back of a spoon”.  However, I learned that if I put a spoon into the mix right after adding the broth, it did coat the back of a spoon already.  Use your judgment here.  You want things to get a bit thicker so the sauce will coat and stick to everything.  Be sure to stir occasionally.

Right when you add the chicken broth to the pot, you should have a decent boil going in your other pot.  Drop in your pasta and start getting that cooked.  You want to get the penne al dente or tender but still firm to bite.  That should take around 12 to 14 minutes.

Once the contents of your cooking pot (not the boiling one) have reached the sauce stage, take that strainer filled with your browned sausage and dump it back in.  You want to mix everything up.  You should see the sauce coating the meat pretty well.  After that quick mix, you will add the mascarpone cheese.  It will melt and combine with the rest of the sauce over the next 6-7 minutes.  Stir everything occasionally to help the ingredients evenly distribute themselves.  While you’re doing this, your pasta should be ready.  Take the pot off the stove, drain the pasta in a colander (or whatever your usual vessel is) and set it aside.  We’re almost done.

Now, with the sauce fully incorporated, dump in your cooked pasta, the Parmesan cheese, a pinch of salt and a few turns (or another pinch) of black pepper.  Mix it all together and you are ready to feed a group.

*** Variation note***

The slightly different version of this pasta involves the elimination of one of the ingredients listed here and the addition of another.  Get rid of the Parmesan cheese.  What we are going to add is 1 cup of frozen peas.  You should add the peas at the same time that you add the mascarpone cheese.  In about 6 minutes, the frozen peas will be tender.  This variation doesn’t dramatically alter the taste (although removing the Parmesan does impact things a bit), but I find that it makes the pasta a bit more visually striking.  Try both variations.  You won’t be disappointed.

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