Well, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful…
Okay, I’ll stop singing…
I love the Autumn, and the cold weather it brings because it gives me a chance to experiment with hearty soups, stews, and (in this case) casseroles.
This dish is fairly straightforward to put together, and I guarantee that it will warm the hearts and souls of your family and guests. With lots of bubby cheese, Italian sausage, and tomatoes mixed in with some comforting pasta, this dish has all the right stuff.
Chef’s Tip: Prepping is an important step in any recipe, and helps you maintain control of your kitchen and your recipe. Dice the onions, remove the casing from the Italian sausage, blanch, peel and seed the tomatoes… prep, prep, prep.
In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
When the oil begins to shimmer, add the sausage and cook, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon into small pieces.
Chef’s Note: If you want to reduce some of the fat in this dish, you can substitute chicken sausage for the Italian sausage.
Cook until nice and brown, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the onions, and a pinch of salt, and continue to cook (mixing with the sausage) until the onions are softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic to the pan, and sauté for an additional minute.
Add the tomatoes, and the basil leaves, incorporating them into the other ingredients.
Reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, until the mixture begins to thicken, about 30 minutes.
Chef's Note: A simmer occurs between 180f-205f (82c-96c). With simmering you'll see bubbles forming and gently rising to the surface, but the liquid is not yet at a full rolling boil.
Proteins are cooked more gently at a simmer as opposed to a boil, which is important because boiled meats will quickly become tough and stringy. This is why sauces, soups and stews with meat in them are simmered rather than boiled.
During the simmering process stop now and then and season with some salt and pepper, to taste.
Chef’s Tip: Adding the salt during the cooking process will make the dish taste seasoned. Adding it at the end will make it taste salty.
Take the sauté pan off heat, and set aside. When it cools slightly, remove the basil leaves, and discard.
Place a rack in the middle position, and preheat the oven to 475f (245c).
Chef's Note: The screaming hot temperature of the oven accomplishes two things: it helps to get the cheese nice and brown, and it crips the pasta in the top layer. This gives the dish the soft comforting mouth feel of the pasta in the interior, and the nice firm bite of the pasta on the exterior.
Add the remaining ingredients (cheeses, and cream) to a large mixing bowl, and stir to combine, and set aside.
Chef’s Note: If your sauté pan is big enough, you can do the mixing right in the pan, and keep cleanup to a minimum.
Take a large pot of water, and bring to the boil, and then add a bit of salt.
Chef’s Tip: If you add the salt to the cold water, it can lay on the bottom of the pot, and over time cause pits to form.
Add the pasta, and cook until molto al dente.
Chef’s Note: Molto al dente is the term used for slightly undercooking pasta. This method is used when a pasta dish is going to be cooked twice. The actual term used for pasta dishes that are cooked twice is: al forno.
Chef’s Tip: If you are using standard penne pasta, cooking molto al dente is about 4 minutes.
Remove the pasta from the water, drain completely in a colander.
Chef's Note: To remove the wheat from this dish, I used some Quinoa penne pasta. It's 100% organic, kosher, gluten free, corn free, and vegan. Plus, in my opinion, it tastes as good as traditional pasta in this dish. The brand name is: Andean Dream
Add the drained pasta to the sauce, and gently stir to incorporate into the other ingredients.
Lightly oil a 2-quart ovenproof baking dish, or use a bit of butter.
Add the pasta mix to the baking dish, and evenly spread out.
Top the dish with some mozzarella cheese, or other cheese, if you prefer.
Add to the preheated oven, and bake until the dish is bubbling and starting to brow, about 12 to 14 minutes.
Remove from oven, allow the dish to cool slightly, and serve with some nice crusty bread. Enjoy.