A simple baked pasta dish, like Pasta with Sausage & Ricotta, is just the thing to serve a house full of guests at Easter time. It's an effortless crowd-pleasing meal loaded with Italian sausage and dollops of ricotta cheese all smothered in a homemade sauce. This pasta dish can easily be made in advance and refrigerated overnight, making it one less thing to worry about when guests start arriving.
Baked Pasta with Sausage & Whipped Ricotta
(adapted from Food & Wine)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 pound hot or sweet Italian fennel sausage, casings removed
One 28-ounce can tomato puree
1 1/2 cups water
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground fennel
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound penne or other short pasta
3 cups ricotta, whipped with olive oil
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella,cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Preheat the oven to 400°. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat, until browned, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato puree, water, bay leaf and fennel. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat until thickened, about 30 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.
Meanwhile, cook the penne in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Using a slotted spoon, add the cooked sausage to the pasta, then add 1 cup of the tomato sauce and toss to coat.
Spoon the pasta into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the pasta and dollop large spoonfuls of whipped ricotta on top. Gently fold some of the ricotta into the pasta; don't overmix—you should have pockets of ricotta. Scatter the mozzarella on top and sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Bake the pasta for about 45 minutes, or until bubbling and golden on top. Let rest for 20 minutes before serving.