The ostensible reason for me getting out the casserole dish and crumbling sausage into the pot was to bring a meal to a friend whose father died over the weekend. But who was I fooling?
My niece and sister were on a plane back to Michigan, and the house was terribly quiet.
I got out two casserole dishes.
Bereavement Baked Pasta
Adapted from Seriously Simple, by Diane Rossen Worthington. This also happens to be a great dish for a completely grief-free ski vacation dinner.
1 1/2-2 lbs. spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 28 oz. cans or jars of good quality marinara sauce
6 Tbs. prepared basil pesto
2 tsp. dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 lb penne pasta
10 oz. Parano, smoked gouda, fontina, or mozzarella cheese, or a mix of all of them, diced
1 1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
Heat a large, heavy pot over medium high heat and add the sausage. Cook, breaking up with a spoon, until crumbled and no pinkness remains, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook for 5 more minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add marinara sauce and oregano, then reduce heat to medium. Simmer for 10 minutes, until the sauce begins to thicken. Stir in the pesto, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Set aside.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain well. Preheat the oven to 375, and get out one large (13x9) or two medium baking dishes. Spread a thin layer of the red sauce on the bottom of the pan(s).
In a large bowl, combine the pasta, the rest of the sauce, the diced cheeses, 1/2 c. of the shredded Parmesan, and the basil leaves, mixing well to combine. Spoon the mixture into the baking pan(s), and sprinkle the remaining 1 c. of Parmesan cheese on top. *
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the casserole begins to bubble and the cheese is melted and light golden brown. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then serve and feel a little better.
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* You can freeze or refrigerate the whole thing at this point, and it keeps beautifully. If frozen, defrost before proceeding as directed, and if it was in the fridge, allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes first.