Everyone has a favorite comfort food they love to eat when they’re sick. For many people, it’s a bowl of hot soup. Me? I’ve never been a big fan of soup (unless it contains the words “cream” or “bisque”), and it’s definitely not the first thing I think about when I’m under the weather. When I’m sick, I ask Jeff to order the baked ziti from a local Italian restaurant. Al dente noodles, red sauce and loads of mozzarella. That’s my idea of comfort food. Maybe I secretly have Italian somewhere in my bloodline.
I’ve never made a baked pasta dish; I usually stick to simple spaghetti and meatballs or pasta tossed with pesto. A couple weeks ago, my local organic market had a sale on spicy pork sausage, so I purchased a pound and put it in the freezer for another day. This week I was feeling inspired to bake my favorite under-the-weather dish (though I’m feeling quite on top of the weather…knock on wood). There are really only a few simple ingredients to this recipe, and you could easily swap out the sausage for chicken or spinach or other veggies as you like. I wanted the classic pasta-sauce-cheese-sausage variety, so I whipped up this recipe. You could easily cut the recipe in half, but I wanted to make a large casserole so we would have plenty of leftovers and even some to save in the freezer for a day when we’re short on time.
- 1 lb. organic whole wheat penne pasta
- 1 lb. spicy (or sweet if you don’t like heat) pork sausage, casings removed
- 32 oz of your favorite pasta sauce (I used a quart of my homemade sauce that I thawed from my freezer)
- 16 oz. organic part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese
- 1 T dried basil
- 1 T. dried oregano
- 1/2 T. dried marjoram
- 1 t. dried red pepper flakes (optional)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large skillet, crumble the sausage and sauté until browned and cooked through. Drain on paper towels.
While the sausage is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions. Penne takes about 8-10 minutes and you want to make sure the pasta is al dente, as it will bake in the oven, too.
While the water is coming to a boil and the sauce is browning (a strangely large number of pots for such a simple dish), bring the sauce to a simmer in a medium saucepan.
Add the browned, drained sausage and the dried herbs and red pepper flakes (if desired) to the tomato sauce and stir. Keep the sauce at a simmer.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain and return to your large pot. Pour the sauce with the sausage over the penne and toss to combine.
I don’t know about you, but I like cheese throughout my baked pasta, not just on top. I use an organic part-skim mozzarella made from pastured cows.
Stir half of the shredded mozzarella into the pasta and sauce.
Using an olive oil mister, spray a 9×13 casserole dish on the bottom and sides. Pour in the pasta and sauce mixture, spreading it out evenly in the dish.
Top with the remaining shredded mozzarella, followed by the grated Parmesan. Sprinkle the top with a pinch of oregano and basil.
Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and a little browned on top.
Remove the pan from the oven and let it sit for a few minutes before serving. Comfort food at its finest!