Prep time: ~90 minutes. Serves 4-6.
Penne al Forno con Salsiccia e Zucchine is easier to cook than to pronounce. It's a delicious dish anyone can make that will leave your guests delighted (and the dish saves incredibly well, if there is any left over). A baked pasta casserole with sausage, zucchini, and a trio of Italian cheeses, this dish is flavorful and a great way to use zucchini or summer squash during the time of year when they are most delicious.
There are several styles of baked pasta casseroles, and none reign supreme. There are no laws in the oven. While there are certainly some delicious white sauces out there, I prefer the zest of a simple tomato and basil sauce, so that's what I include.
I am forgoing photos of the dish for now, but will update this post next time I make it (if I remember to photograph it before I finish the plate, that is).
Ingredients & Instructions below:
1 lb Penne Rigate
4x hot Italian sausages in casing
1 large yellow onion or 2 small, diced
1 garlic, cloves peeled crushed and chopped
1 28-oz. can of San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 oz. dry Sherry
2 cups fresh grated parmigiano reggiano
1 large Zucchini or 2 small zucchini.
12 oz. fresh ciliegine mozzarella or fresh mozzarella sliced 1cm rounds, then halved or quartered.
12 oz. Ricotta sopraffina
Italian herb blend, whatever variety you prefer.
Fresh Basil, chopped very fine.
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Boil heavily salted water for pasta, about 5 quarts.
Dice onions and set aside. Crush and chop garlic, set aside separately. Slice zucchini lengthwise, then chop into 1 cm segments. Toss zucchini with olive oil, salt, fresh ground black pepper, set aside.
If you prefer a smooth sauce, use a food processor or blender to purée tomatoes.
Combine .5 tsp ground nutmeg, salt, fresh ground black pepper, zest of one lemon (or 1/2 of a large lemon - reserve lemon for later), and a blend of dry Italian herbs in a small mixing bowl. Add 1 cup of grated parmigiano reggiano and an egg to seasoning and whisk together until fully combined. Add ricotta, and gently fold in the seasoned egg mixture until fully combined. Cover and set aside.
Heat 12” cast iron over medium high heat. Puncture sausages with a fork on opposite sides to prevent them from bursting.
Add drizzle of olive oil to hot cast iron. Sear sausages until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan, allow sausages to rest away from heat.
Add seasoned zucchini to cast iron, with oil if needed. Brown on all sides, being careful not to crush the vegetables. Remove when finished cooking. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to zucchini and set aside.
Lower heat to medium. Sauté chopped onion with a pinch of salt, black pepper, and Italian herbs, adding oil if needed.
Add crushed and chopped garlic to cooked onions, and sauté for 2 minutes.
Add tomato paste to sautéed aromatics in cast iron, and sauté 30 seconds or until well-mixed and beginning to brown.
Deglaze pan with approximately 2 oz. of dry sherry. Add chopped fresh basil and the tomatoes or tomato purée to the pan, and bring mixture to boil. Cover and boil the tomato sauce over medium heat until cooked, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally while cooking, and reduce heat if the sauce begins to stick to the pan.
While the sauce is cooking, add 1 lb penne rigate to boiling salted water. Return to boil and cook pasta for 5 minutes, slightly under al-dente. The pasta will continue to cook when baking. Reserve a half-cup of pasta water when pasta is prepared. Set pasta aside in a large mixing bowl and toss with 1/2 cup of tomato sauce to prevent sticking.
Add some of the reserved pasta water to sauce, and allow to boil for 90 seconds or so. Turn off heat, and allow sauce to settle and cool slightly.
Slice sausages in 1-cm or 1/2-inch segments, straight or on a bias if you prefer larger pieces. Add sliced sausage, zucchini, and mozzarella to pasta, with half of the remaining sauce and gently fold to coat everything.
Fold in ricotta mixture incrementally, and do not fully combine when mixing.
Put the mixture in a 12” cast iron or 9”x13” Pyrex/high-heat glassware pan and gently spread it out evenly. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the pasta, it does not have to be evenly distributed. Add about 1 cup of grated parmigiano reggiano to cover the pasta and sauce.
Spray aluminum foil with non-stick cooking spray, and cover the pan loosely (spray side down), to leave some air between the pasta and the foil. Bake for 25 minutes at 425°F. Remove foil, and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until cheese is golden brown.
Allow to cool 15 minutes before serving.
Enjoy with additional grated cheese or garnish with fresh basil, if you like.
Prep time: ~90 minutes. Serves 4-6.