This Baked Penne pasta recipe features chunks of sausage, a quick garlic-infused tomato sauce hinting of fennel, and plenty of gooey cheese – fresh ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan. It’s sure to be a family dinner favorite as is, but if you replace store-bought ricotta with Maria Helm Sinskey’s Creamy Ricotta recipe (Food & Wine, Nov. 2008), it raises the rating from delicious to divine. The fresh and fluffy ricotta, together with the herbs, perfectly balance the hearty sausage and tomato sauce.
1.Preheat oven to 375°F.
2.Sauté sausage and smashed garlic in olive oil, breaking up sausage as it browns.
3.Add tomatoes, fennel, basil, salt and pepper. Simmer about 30 minutes.
4.In the meantime, boil water and cook the penne until al dente.
5.Drain but do not rinse, saving about 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Pour the pasta water into the tomato sauce and stir in. (This will help the sauce cling to the pasta.)
6.In large bowl, mix ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, fresh basil and fresh parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
7.Combine penne, sauce and cheese mixture.
8.Spoon into 13”x9” glass casserole or ceramic pie pans. Sprinkle extra mozzarella and Parmesan on top.
9.Bake for 20 minutes, turning up to broil for last few minutes until top is golden and bubbly.
10.Let sit 5-10 minutes. Serve.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 pound spicy and/or sweet Italian sausage
2 teaspoons dried organic basil
1 teaspoon organic fennel seed
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
2 28-ounce cans of plum tomatoes, blended in food processor
1 bunch fresh basil chopped
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley chopped
1/2 pound mozzarella cut into small cubes, plus 1/2 cup shredded for topping
3 cups ricotta
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to sprinkle on top