Savory, sweet, and spicy – and quick enough for weeknight dinner
Sweet grapes paired with savory sausage? Yup, it’s a classic.
This Italian dish is most often served as a simple sauté flavored with balsamic vinegar and sometimes garlic. But we like to combine it with pasta for an easy main course.
With a glass of wine, of course. Because grapes.
Looking for easy? This is your dish: Just sauté slices of Italian sausage in a frying pan, then set them aside. Brown some onions and garlic, add grapes and some wine, then braise for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the pasta. When that’s ready, return the sausage to the frying pan, add the cooked pasta, mix together – and voilà.
We like to use a pasta shape that catches the sauce. So we often use conchiglie (shells), which are about the same size as the grapes and sausage slices. But farfalle also work well. Or you could use a tubular shape like penne or rigatoni.
This recipe takes about 25 minutes to make and serves two. You can easily double it.
- 4 to 6 ounces of dried pasta (see recipe headnote for suggested shape)
- 1 medium onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 links of Italian sausage, about 8 ounces total (sweet or hot sausage – your preference)
- extra virgin olive oil as needed (2 to 3 tablespoons total)
- ~2 cups of seedless grapes (green or red, your choice)
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste; optional)
- ½ cup red or white wine (may substitute dry vermouth, chicken stock, or water)
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or more to taste)
- ~1 tablespoon kosher salt for the pasta water (see Notes)
- a big handful of fresh basil (or more to taste)
- ~½ ounce grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for garnish (optional)
- Measure out the pasta. Set aside.
- Peel the onion, cut it in half, then cut it into thin slices. Set aside.
- Peel the garlic and slice it thinly or mince it finely. Set aside.
- Cut the Italian sausage into slices about ½ inch thick. Place a large frying pan over medium stovetop heat. When the pan is hot, add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then add the sausage slices. Sauté until the sausage slices are brown on each side and thoroughly cooked (5 to 7 minutes total). Remove the cooked sausage slices with a slotted spoon and drain them on a paper towel.
- Place a cooking pot filled with water (use one large enough to hold the pasta) on high stovetop heat.
- Add more olive oil to the frying pan if needed (see Notes), then add the onion slices. Sauté until the onion is translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the chopped garlic and cook for one minute. Then add the grapes and red pepper flakes (if using). Sauté for one minute, then add the wine and balsamic vinegar. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, then simmer the mixture for 10 minutes (add spoonfuls of water from the pasta cooking pot if the liquid in the frying pan evaporates).
- When the pasta water boils, add enough salt to season the water, then add the pasta. Cook until al dente (usually 7 minutes or so; follow the package directions if in doubt). When the pasta is done, scoop out about a cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta into a colander.
- Meanwhile, wash the basil and cut it into thin strips. Grate the cheese (if using).
- Add the cooked sausage slices back to the frying pan. Add the pasta and stir to combine. If necessary, add a bit of the reserved pasta water to form a sauce.
- Stir in the chopped basil. Immediately dish up and serve, adding a garnish of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano if desired.
- Green or red grapes? Green ones seem to be more common in this dish, but we prefer red. Use whichever you fancy.
- No fresh basil on hand? You could substitute fresh spinach. Or a another dark green like escarole. Or maybe broccoli rabe. If you’re not using basil, we suggest adding about two handfuls of greens.
- And if you’re using any green other than spinach, you’ll probably want to cook it for a bit. So add it to the dish shortly after you add the grapes (Step 6).
- We like to use spicy Italian sausage in this dish. Plus red pepper flakes. But follow your own taste.
- We make this dish with sausage links, not bulk sausage. But we suppose you could use bulk sausage if you prefer.
- We suggest using about 8 ounces of sausage for this dish. But adjust the quantity if you prefer more or less.
- Grapes pair beautifully with fennel. So if your sausage contains fennel, all the better. Or you could add a teaspoon or two of fennel seeds to this dish as you make it – add them in Step 6, when you add the red pepper flakes.
- Both sausage and cheese (if using) are pretty salty. So we rarely add extra salt to this dish. We just salt the pasta water to season it.
- We use kosher salt in cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If you’re using table salt, start with about half the amount we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
- So how much salt should you use to season the pasta water? We typically use about 2 quarts of water when cooking the pasta for this dish, and find that about 1 tablespoon of kosher salt works pretty well. But adjust to your taste.
- Use as much olive oil as your judgment suggests. The olive oil helps form a sauce for the dish, so use good quality.
- BTW, the sausage and balsamic vinegar will color the oil and other liquid in this dish a light brown. When you add the pasta to the frying pan, it typically takes on the attractive hue of the sauce.
- We generally use about 2 ounces of pasta per serving for this dish. But use as much as you prefer.
- We use regular semolina pasta, but you could substitute whole wheat or gluten-free if you prefer.
- We always weigh pasta rather than trying to measure it by volume. It’s just easier. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, you might want to put one on your wish list.
“Yum,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “I never sausage a dish.”
“It’s a winner,” I said. “Or is that a wiener?”
“Too bad it doesn’t have a name,” said Mrs K R. “Like maybe Alexander the Grape.”
“Or Abraham Link-on,” I said.
“Though it might be more fitting to call this Pasta Disappear-o,” said Mrs K R. “My plate is empty already.”
Cheesy come, cheesy go.
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