“If you have never squeezed out sausage meat into little meatballs, then this is going to change your life,” writes Elizabeth Hewson in her new cookbook, Saturday Night Pasta. She uses sausages because it’s the fastest and easiest way to achieve flavour and to ensure you get the tastiest and most tender meatballs.

Saturday Night Pasta contains 40 recipes, but it’s more than just a cookbook – it’s an informative guide to making pasta shapes and basic doughs, and a meditation on the self-care ritual (of the same name) Hewson created to help combat her anxiety.

She’d attempted other methods for coping with stress and anxiety, such as yoga and exercise, but it wasn’t until she cooked pasta from scratch one Saturday night three years ago that she realised she’d stumbled upon something that actually worked.

“I poured myself a glass of wine, turned on some Frank Sinatra and started to knead … It felt oddly satisfying to channel the unadulterated anger of another horrible, demoralising week into pasta dough,” she writes in the book.

Not only did it allow the Sydneysider to switch off stress, find calm and focus her mind, the bright splashes of red sauce and mess in her kitchen made her feel liberated, rather than inducing feelings of inadequacy.

“Making something from scratch and enjoying it proved to be a reaffirming, soul-restoring experience,” says Hewson, who is also the marketing and brand manager for one of Australia’s leading restaurant groups, Sydney’s Fink Group (Bennelong, Quay, Firedoor). “It gave me a new brightness … I felt good. I had switched off. I was calm.”

For this dish, Hewson says you can use dried pasta from the supermarket (opt for fusilli, penne or rigatoni), or if you’re making it fresh, go for cavatelli. (The recipe below includes instructions for both.) She also suggests emulsifying the cheese in the pasta sauce with a knob of butter. “It’s the secret, finishing touch of most pasta chefs.”

Cavetelli With Sausage Meatballs, Cavolo Nero And Fennel Seeds
Serves 4
Preparation time: 25 minutes, plus 20 minutes to rest pasta (if making)
Cooking time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 good-quality Italian pork-and-fennel sausages
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp rosemary, leaves finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
125ml dry white wine
250ml chicken stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch of cavolo nero, leaves stripped and roughly chopped
1 tbsp salted butter
Handful of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus extra to serve

Pasta
If you’re using dried pasta, opt for fusilli, penne or rigatoni. If you’re making fresh cavatelli, you’ll need:
200g semola di grano duro (twice-milled Italian semolina), plus extra for dusting
90ml warm water
A gnocchi board to shape the pasta

Method

Basic semolina pasta
Weigh out your ingredients and place the flour in a large shallow bowl. (Use a bowl, otherwise the water will run everywhere.) Using your fingers, make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the warm water. Use your hands to mix it – once things have started to come together, you can tip the dough onto your work station. You’ll still have small bits of flour everywhere and the texture will be very crumbly. Take a deep breath and squeeze everything together, moving the dough around with force to mop up any excess flour. A pastry cutter helps you cut the dough to reveal the wetter parts. Knead.

Squeeze your dough into a ball. Cup your hands around the dough, and using your palms push the dough out, then roll your fingers around the top and roll it back in. Think of it as the tide going in and out. If it starts to feel dry, mist or wet your hands and continue to knead. Don’t knead more than 5–7 minutes. It’s ready when it’s smooth and soft like a baby’s bottom. Wrap in plastic wrap or a tea towel and leave to rest for 20 minutes.

Making cavatelli
Make the dough as above. Cut off a small chunk and roll it into a rope about 1cm thick. Keep the rest of the dough covered so it doesn’t dry out.

Cut the rope into pieces that are 1cm wide. Lightly flour a gnocchi board and hold it up on an angle with the base resting on your work surface. Place a piece of dough at the top of the board and place the side of your thumb on the dough, then drag it down the board so it almost curls over your thumb, creating a ridged curl. Repeat with the entire ball of dough, ensuring your board remains well floured.

Sauce (skip straight to this step if you’re using dried pasta)
Heat a deep, heavy-based frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, pour in the olive oil. Cut the ends of the sausages and squeeze out small nuggets of meat into the pan. Cook for 5–10 minutes, until the sausage meatballs are golden. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the meatballs and set aside.

Add the fennel seeds, chilli flakes, rosemary and garlic to the pan and give everything a good stir to ensure the mixture doesn’t burn. Inhale its heady scent, an aroma that will linger throughout the meal. Cook for 1 minute, then pour in the white wine to deglaze the pan, watching the bubbles engulf the garlic. Using a wooden spoon, scrape all that sticky goodness off the base of the pan. Once the wine has almost evaporated, return the meatballs to the pan along with the chicken stock, and cook for 5 minutes for the flavours to meld. Season with salt and pepper.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a lively boil and season as salty as the sea. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Now, back to your sauce. Add the cavolo nero and place the lid on the pan. Give the cavolo nero a minute or two to wilt.

Drain the pasta, reserving 125ml of the cooking
water. Add the pasta to the sauce, along with the butter and Parmigiano Reggiano. Give the whole thing a firm stir in the pan, adding the reserved cooking water to loosen everything up. Watch it thicken to form a glossy, luxurious sauce that coats the pasta and meatballs.

Serve immediately with extra Parmigiano Reggiano showered over the top.

Saturday Night Pasta is by Elizabeth Hewson, published by Plum and with photography by Nikki To. It's out October 27 ($36.99). Buy it here.