So, to me at least, anyone who cooks often enough picks up a few signature dishes. Dishes that they’ve made dozens of times and barely even need a recipe to make anymore. I have a few like my chicken pot pie, gumbo, and panang curry. For my mom, one of my favorites is her Pasta Rustica. It’s basically a deconstructed lasagna also made in a casserole. Instead of flat sheets of pasta you use penne as a base, and bake it with sauce, cheese and crumbled sausage in a baking pan rather than laboriously construct it one layer at a time. It tastes just as good, has a similar texture and is about a fourth the effort. So I decided to try it myself with a few modifications. I haven’t been getting enough vegetables so I added celery and carrots (is onion a vegetable?)
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 28oz can chopped tomatoes
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt, to taste
3/4 lb, Italian sausage, crumbled
1 lb penne pasta
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 1/4 cup ricotta
2 cups mozzarella shredded cheese
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Begin by heating the oven to 350, and starting a pot of salted water, and foil lining and oiling a casserole or baking pan. Chop all your veggies during this time. When the water comes to boil add the pasta and keep an eye on it while doing other stuff. When it’s barely al dente, drain it and put some oil on it to keep it from sticking.
While the pasta boils, add all the veg to olive oil in an dutch oven and cook until you can see through the onions. Then add the sausage. Don’t rush this step, you need to cook all of the moisture out or you’ll get a soupy mess at the end. Brown the sausages then add salt, dried basil, and red pepper, cook until fragrant. Finally add the tomatoes (I messed this part up in the photos).
By now the pasta should be done. In a bowl, mix the pasta and sausage mixture. Add the Mozzarella and Ricotta and let the residual heat melt them a bit then mix thoroughly. Pour it all in the baking pan and cover with Parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes or until there’s a nice browning on top. Serve with some salt, pepper and extra Parmesan.
Mine ended up being a bit soupier than mom’s because of the vegetables. But overall it added to the flavor and I liked it. For her version, leave out the celery and carrots.