There are certain recipes I obsess over. I have folder marked “Re-Visit” and in it there must be at least five recipes for baked pasta dishes. They all are fundamentally the same. The pasta is cooked and then a sauce is mixed into it, cheese is added to it and tops it and the whole thing goes into a hot oven for 15 or 10 minutes. In my imagination, it emerges with cheese bubbling up from under a crisp brown Parmesan crust. The incredibly rich cream sauce coats the pasta which is laden with the flavor of sausage or meatballs, pork or beef. That’s how I imagine it until reality takes over: Dried pasta sticks up out of a bare covering of cheese. Inside the sauce is non-existent and were it not for the meat, it would hardly be worth eating. This has been going on for years.
Then finally, in the most unimaginable place I found Baked Pasta Nirvana. In this recipe, luscious ripe tomatoes in big chunks are mixed with slices of sweet Italian sausage. The pasta, tomatoes and sausage come together in a creamy béchamel sauce. And an entire layer of Mozzarella, hidden bang in the middle of the dish, pulls on your fork like mozzarella in a pizza commercial. I did use the very last of the fresh tomatoes when I made this dish. But I discovered that canned plum tomatoes, drained of their liquid and cut into large chunks are an admirable replacement and put this dish within reach year ‘round. And where did this amazing dish come from? Why, Departures magazine!
|Gillian's favorite fishing harbor|
Castellamare del Golfo, Sicilia
|The Hollywood Connection!|
Recipe for Baked Penne with Sausage, Mozzarella and Tomatoes adapted from Gillian Duffy
|The key is big chunks of both Tomatoes and Mozzarella|
2 tsp olive oil
1 lb sweet Italian sausages
3 cloves garlic, sliced
3 cups chopped tomatoes in very large dice.
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp oregano
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1-1/2 cup hot milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil
8 oz penne
8 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into 1-inch cubes
1. Heat the oven to 400° F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium. Add the sausages and cook for a few minutes until firm. Remove them from the pan and allow to cool.
3. Cut them into thin slices, return to the skillet and cook until they start to brown. Add the garlic and sauté briefly, then add the tomatoes, pepper flakes and oregano and cook for a few minutes. Do not allow the tomatoes to break down; they should remain in chunks.
3. Make the béchamel: Melt the butter in a saucepan set over medium. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Cook for about 2 minutes before gradually whisking in the hot milk until the sauce is smooth. Continue cooking until it begins to thicken. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Once the salted water reaches a boil, cook the penne until it is about a minute away from al dente. Drain well, reserving 1/2 cup of cooking water, add the pasta to the sausage-tomato sauce and mix well. If the mixture is dry, add some of the water
6. Transfer half of the pasta to a greased baking dish, layer with the mozzarella and cover with the remaining pasta. Sprinkle the Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top and place the dish on the oven’s upper rack. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until a light golden crust forms. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.