Baked Penne with Italian Sausage

This recipe has been featured in a post on The Recipe Girl blog: Pea-Sized Hail and a Good Comfort Food Dish.

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Baked Penne with Italian Sausage

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Prep Time: 30 min

Cook Time: 1 hr, 10 min

Really great comfort food dish. Super easy to prepare and minimal ingredient list.

Ingredients:

1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1/2 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed
12 ounces ricotta cheese
4 Tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil, divided
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 1/2 cups Parmesan Cheese, shredded
24 ounces pasta, penne, or other short tube pasta
4 1/2 cups Marinara Sauce
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

Directions:

1. Bring 6 quarts of water to boil in a large pot over high heat.

2. Meanwhile, cook sausage in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until the sausage loses its raw color, about 5 minutes. Drain the sausage on a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.

3. Mix ricotta cheese, 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil, 1.2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper together; set aside. In a separate bowl, toss the mozzarella and Parmesan together until combined; set aside.

4. Add 1 1/2 Tablespoons salt and the pasta to the boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta. Return the drained pasta to the pot and stir in the marinara sauce, sausage, remaining 2 Tablespoons oil and reserved pasta cooking water.

5. Pour half of the sauced pasta into a 13x9-inch baking dish. Drop large spoonfuls of the ricotta mixture evenly over the pasta, then pour the remaining sauced pasta over the ricotta layer. Sprinkle the top of the penne evenly with the mozzarella mixture.

6. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400°F. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil that has been sprayed with vegetable oil spray (or use nonstick foil). Bake until the sauce bubbled lightly around the edges, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until pasta is completely heated through, 25 to 30 minutes longer. Sprinkle with basil before serving.

Tips:

*If you'd like to make this dish ahead, wrap the prepared casserole with plastic wrap and then foil, and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to one month. (If frozen, the casserole must be thawed completely in the refrigerator, about 24 hours, before baking). Be sure to remove the plastic wrap.
*You can also divide this meal into two 8x8-inch casserole dishes (each will serve 4). Eat one and freeze one!

Source: RecipeGirl.com (Adapted slightly from The Best Make-Ahead Recipe)