This recipe comes from Beth Nielsen, a third-generation owner of the Nielsen-Massey vanilla company in Chicago. I’ll admit I was exact-bordering-on-scant with my vanilla measurement in Nielsen’s arrabbiata, a deliciously nostalgic nod to the Pregos and Ragus many of us grew up on. The sauce is thick and jammy from a two-hour simmer, with assertive minty, peppery notes from the dried basil and oregano. The vanilla doesn’t hit till the back of your palate—a rounded whisper of sweetness that softens the tomato and plays beautifully off the fatty pork sausage. You wouldn’t guess it’s vanilla if you didn’t already know, but you’d probably miss it if it wasn’t there.
- Heat the olive oil in a large saucepot over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook until brown and crumbly, stirring constantly. Remove the sausage to a paper- towel-lined plate. Set aside. Add the onion to the pan drippings and sauté until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to low. Add the sausage, celery salt, basil, oregano, bay leaf, sugar, vanilla extract, salt and pepper. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and tomato sauce. Simmer, partially covered, for 2 hours to blend the flavors, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t burn. Remove the bay leaf. Serve over your favorite pasta, prepared al dente.
Maggie Hennessy is a freelance food and drink journalist and chef. The former restaurant critic for Time Out Chicago, Hennessy's work has also appeared in such publications as Bon Appetit, Salon, and Food52. Find her at maggiehennessy.com.