This recipe for baked penne pasta with Italian sausage is true comfort food. Similar to lasagna in texture and "mouth feel", this dish is much quicker to put together. You can easily adjust the flavors of this dish by using hot sausage instead of sweet sausage. Try it with turkey sausage for a lighter, lower-calorie version. Toss in some fresh or frozen spinach or peas for a bit of color and it becomes a healthy and nutritious one-dish dinner. This recipe is also great for team dinners, pot lucks, dinner parties and holiday buffets.
This image courtesy of the-girl-who-ate-everything.com
This baked pasta recipe requires four basic steps...sauté the sausage and onions, add in your tomato sauce, pour into pan, top with cheese and bake. Easy peasy. Season as you go and add whatever extra ingredients your family likes...garlic, spinach, peas, basil, red pepper flakes, maybe even add in some ground veal or beef sausage to add a layer of depth. It freezes and microwaves well too so make a big batch and pop serving-size portions in the freezer for quick meals.
TIP: Drain the penne about 1.5 minutes short of the full time. The pasta will continue to bake in the oven and this tip will prevent it from becoming mushy.
TIP: The ratio of sauce to pasta should be heavy on the sauce. The pasta will absorb quite a bit of liquid in the oven so if it looks soupy before you add the cheese, that is perfect.
TIP: Use the reserved starchy pasta water to smooth out the sauce and add enough extra liquid to make the mix soupy. It will help thicken the sauce as it bakes.
If you have homemade tomato sauce in your freezer, you definitely want to use it in this dish for the freshest flavor and quickest results. I used 2 packages of the roasted cherry tomato sauce that I made in August and it made for a very quick assembly. If you don't have any of your own, canned products work just fine.
Yield: Serves 4 for dinner, 6 for lunch, 8 as a starter
Baked penne with Italian sausage is a delightfully simple yet richly satisfying comfort food that can be to tossed together quickly. Serve with a fresh, green salad and some crusty bread and dinner is done.
1 lb. penne pasta or zitti
2 tsp olive oil
1 lb. Italian sausage, hot or sweet, casing removed
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
3 cups homemade tomato sauce, if available
a handful of fresh basil, rough chopped or gently torn
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
For the Sauce
1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (14 oz. ) can diced tomatoes
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Bring a large pot of water to boil. When at a rolling boil, add 2 heaping tablespoons of salt and drop in the pasta. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook according to directions but shorten cooking time by 1.5 minutes.
While the water is heating, heat oil in a large, deep skillet. Add the sausage, garlic and onion and cook over medium heat until the meat is nicely browned. Use your spatula to break up the meat and stir so everything cooks evenly. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Push the meat to the side of the pan and drain excess fat.
Add the wine and cook for one minute. Using a wisk, scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan (deglazing).
Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and paste. Stir to combine, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes.
When the pasta is done (still quite firm), carefully reserve a cup of the starchy pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta and add it back into the hot pot, off the heat. Add in the sauce using a spatula to scrape up every drop. Gently combine. Add in the reserved pasta water and stir to smooth out the sauce. Add the basil at the last minute and toss gently.
Place in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish and generously but evenly top with the mozzarella cheese.
Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Allow pan to sit for 5 minutes before serving.
Add fresh or frozen peas or spinach (just add to the pasta water in the last minute and drain along with the pasta) and you have a one-dish dinner. For a lighter version, use turkey sausage. For a richer version, use 1/2 pound of ground veal or beef and 1/2 pound of sausage and add 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese to the topping. This freezes well too. Just cover with foil and reheat in a 350 degree oven until the center is hot (30-40 minutes) or microwave in a microwave-safe container.