Baked Pasta with Sausage, Three Cheeses, and Spinach
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pecorino romano, grated, plus 4 additional tablespoons reserved
frozen chopped spinach
marinara sauce (your choice)
salt, kosher variety, to taste
black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
1Gather your ingredients.
2Take four ramekins (or similar heat-proof dishes) about 4.5 x 2 inches, and rub the interiors with olive oil (a paper towel soaked in the oil is an easy way to accomplish this).
3Chef’s Tip: A ramekin that’s 4.5 inches in diameter by 2 inches tall will hold exactly 1 cup of yummy ingredients.
4Gather the three cheeses. Minus the 4 reserved tablespoons of Pecorino Romano.
5Combine the ricotta, Pecorino Romano (minus the 4 tablespoons that you reserved), and the mozzarella in a small bowl.
6Divide the cheese mixture into two equal halves.
7Chef’s Note: What is Pecorino Romano? It’s a hard, salty (very salty) Italian cheese, made out of sheep's milk (pecora, is Italian for sheep).
8Remove the sausage from the casing, and place in a sauté pan over medium heat.
9Cook the sausage; breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon, as it cooks.
10Chef’s Tip: Since the sausage is going to cook with the other ingredients in the oven, just cook it until it’s no longer pink.
11Remove the sausage from skillet, and allow it to drain on a paper towel.
12Pour out any remaining grease from the skillet, and discard.
13Add a bit of olive oil to the skillet, and sauté the garlic for about a minute, over medium heat.
14Chef’s Note: Be careful not to let the garlic burn.
15Add the spinach, and season with a bit of salt and pepper.
16Continue to cook for an additional 2 minutes.
17Chef’s Tip: Keep the garlic and spinach active in the skillet (keep stirring), until most of, the moisture has evaporated.
18Add the sausage back into the skillet, and combine with the spinach.
19Add the marinara sauce, reduce the heat to medium low.
20Simmer the ingredients for 3 or 4 minutes.
21Chef's Tip: During this time, season the mixture to taste. If you do it now, the sauce will taste seasoned... If you do it after the dish is cooked, it will taste salty.
22Chef’s Note: There are a lot of good marinara sauces out there; including home made (which would be my choice). Pick a sauce that you’re happy with.
23Remove the skillet from the heat, and divide the sauce into two equal halves.
24Throw a pinch of salt into a pot of water, bring to a lively boil, and then add the pasta.
25When the pasta comes back to the boil, read the instructions for cooking al dente, and then reduce the time by 3 to 4 minutes.
26Chef’s Note: The pasta is going to bake in the oven, so we want it only partially cooked.
27Drain the pasta into a colander, and rinse in cool (not cold) water to stop the cooking process.
28Divide the pasta into two equal halves. You should now have two halves of pasta, sauce, and the three cheese mixture. Plus the four tablespoons of reserved Pecorino Romano cheese.
30Take one of the bowls of pasta, and divide it equally between the four ramekins.
31Take one of the bowls of 3-cheese mixture, and divide it equally between the four ramekins (on top of the pasta).
32Take one of the bowls of sauce, and divide it equally between the four ramekins.
33Chef's Note: Use your fingers to press the mixture into the ramekins.
35Divide the remaining pasta between the four ramekins.
36Divide the remaining cheese between the four ramekins.
37Divide the remaining sauce between the four ramekins.
38Sprinkle a tablespoon of the reserved Pecorino Romano on the top of each one of the ramekins.
39Place a rack in the middle position, and preheat oven to 375f (190c).
40Put ramekins into the preheated oven and allow to bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cheese on top begins to brown.
41Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before servings. Enjoy.
42Keep the faith, and keep cooking.