Thursday, January 5, 2012

Baked Rigatoni

After I made Spaetzel with Kielbasa and Caramelized Onions (see my December 31 post), which was smothered in Emmentaler cheese, I started craving more cheese dishes. So I reached back deep into my library and pulled out this recipe from Williams Sonoma, which I modified by replacing their ground beef ingredient with the much more delicious, hot Italian sausage.

If you're not into the labor of making lasagna, this recipe gives you a lot of the same flavors with a lot less work. The only lasagna ingredient really missing is ricotta cheese, which, in fact, is not really a cheese. Ricotta is actually coagulated milk proteins, a by-product of cheese production. I'm not a huge fan because it's taste and texture remind me of cottage cheese, which I abhor. (In my youth, my mother would put a scoop of cottage cheese on an iceberg lettuce leaf and call it salad. I called it just slightly more desirable than an enema.)

Make sure you buy big, thick really makes the dish. It's also important to undercook it when it's in the boiling water, as it will continue to cook and take on moisture when it is in the oven. If you overcook it in the boiling water, it will fall apart in the casserole. This recipe serves six.

1 pound rigatoni
1/4 cup of salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons more 
1 large yellow onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds hot Italian sausage
2 tablespoons dried Turkish oregano
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 pound shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Non-stick cooking oil

  1. Preheat oven to 350ยบ.
  2. Fill a large pot two-thirds full of water and add 1/4 cup of salt. Bring to a boil. Add the rigatoni, stir well and cook until al dente (tender but firm to the bite, about 1-2 minutes less than the cooking time on the package). Drain the rigatoni, place in a large bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil to prevent sticking. Set aside.
  3. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the Italian sausage and cook, stirring to break up the meat, until no pink remains, about 10 minutes. Drain off any fat. Add the oregano and tomatoes and stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Stir in the cream, raise the heat and return to a boil. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper. Add the sauce to the bowl with the rigatoni and toss to coat well.
  4. Spray a little non-stick cooking oil on the bottom of a shallow 3-quart baking dish. Spoon half of the pasta mixture in the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with half of the mozzarella. Top with the remaining pasta, the remaining mozzarella and the Parmesan. Bake until the sauce is bubbly and the top is crusty and golden brown, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, let stand for about 5 minutes and serve.

Wine pairing: Syrah or Zinfandel

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