Luscious baked penne with Italian sausage is a cheesy, rich and satisfying dish that goes together in well under an hour. It has the “mouth feel” of lasagna but is much simpler to pull together. Spice it up with hot sausage, make it richer with ground veal or beef or try a lighter, lower-calorie version with turkey sausage. Add in fresh or frozen peas or spinach for a pop of color and it becomes a healthy and nutritious one-dish meal. Using just a few standard ingredients, ones that you probably already have on hand, it is quick and easy to make. Pop it in the oven while you throw together a green salad, slice up some hearty bread and set the table. Fast enough for busy week nights yet festive enough for Sunday dinner or a holiday party. Freeze the leftovers in single-serving containers for a quick and hearty lunch. Try it tonight!
This recipe consists of 4 basic steps: sauté, add sauce, pour into pan, top and bake. Serves 4 for dinner, 6 for lunch, 8 as a side dish.
· 1 lb. penne pasta or ziti (or any similar pasta shape you have on hand)
· 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 tomato sauce, homemade if available or 1 (24 oz.) jar store-bought
· a handful of fresh basil, rough chopped or gently torn (optional)
· 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
· ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
· 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
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. 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.
TIP: Drain the pasta 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.
3. While the water is heating, heat the oil in a large, deep skillet. Add the sausage, garlic and onion and cook over medium-high 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.
5. Add the wine and cook for one minute. Using a wisk or spatula, scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan (deglazing).
6. Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and paste. Stir to combine, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
7. 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 last delicious drop.
TIP: The ratio of pasta to sauce should be heavy on the sauce. The pasta will absorb quite a bit of liquid in the oven.
8. Gently combine. Add in the reserved pasta water in batches and stir to smooth out the sauce. Add the basil at the last minute and toss gently.
TIP: Using the reserved starchy pasta water helps smooth out the sauce. Add enough extra liquid to make the mix just a tad soupy. The sauce will thicken as it bakes.
9. Place in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish and generously but evenly top with the mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle with the Parmesan.
10. Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Allow pan to sit for a few minutes before serving.
Add fresh or frozen peas or spinach and you have a one-dish dinner. Just add the veggies to the pasta water in the last minute and drain along with the pasta. 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 more 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.