Monday, April 8, 2013

Baked Rigatoni with Sautéed Fennel

Baked Rigatoni with Sautéed Fennel

You’ve invested a lot of time into making homemade Red Sauce, at least you should have! (See: Essential Red Sauce with Meat) Now it’s time to reap the rewards of your efforts with a pasta dish that takes only minutes to prepare.

When you make my Essential Red Sauce with Meat, you will have separated the meats from the finished sauce and you’ll use some of each here. One of the signature seasonings in Italian sausage is fennel seed, so we build on that base for the flavor twist in this simple and satisfying dish.

Baked Rigatoni with Sautéed Fennel
Serves: 4 to 6     Preparation Time: 20 Minutes     Cooking Time: 45 Minutes


• 1 Pound Dry Rigatoni Pasta
• 1 Fennel Bulb, cored and thinly sliced
• 2 Tablespoons Onion, finely chopped
• 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
• ¼ Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
• 4 Cups Red Sauce, from Essential Red Sauce with Meat recipe
• 1 Pound Sweet Italian Sausage, from Essential Red Sauce with Meat recipe
• ½ Pound Mozzarella Cheese, thinly sliced (sandwich thin)

Preparation Steps

Step 1. Add the Rigatoni to a pot of well salted, boiling water and once the water has begun to boil again, cook for 10 minutes and then drain. You want the pasta to be just al dente or “to the tooth”, meaning there should be some resistance when you bite through a sample.

Step 2. Preheat oven to 350ºF

Step 3. While the pasta is cooking set a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add Olive Oil. Toss the Fennel and Onion together and add to the pan, stirring to completely coat with the oil. Cook stirring frequently for 10 to 12 minutes, until the Fennel has caramelized. Remove from heat and stir in the Crushed Red Pepper Flakes. Set aside.

Step 4. In a large bowl combine the drained pasta with 3 cups of Red Sauce and the caramelized Fennel mixture then stir to coat. Put ½ of this into a 3 quart baking dish.

Step 5. Arrange the pieces of Italian Sausage on top of the pasta in the baking dish and then add the remaining pasta on top of the sausage. Spread the remaining 1 cup of Red Sauce over the pasta and cover the entire top with the sliced Mozzarella Cheese. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes until the cheese has browned completely. 

Baked Rigatoni with Sautéed Fennel

Serve with some freshly grated cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Asiago or Romano.

Tips and Trending

~ When you cook any pasta, salt the water well - it’s the only opportunity you have to season the inside of the pasta.

~ Begin taste-testing for the desired doneness during the last 2 minutes of the cooking time for the pasta. Cooking times will vary depending on the amount of water and the amount of salt, don’t rely on package directions!

~ If you are not using the Italian sausage from my Essential Red Sauce with Meat recipe, then prepare the sausage by cutting up a pound of sweet Italian sausage links into 1½” pieces and cooking them in the large sauté pan before using it to caramelize the fennel. Reduce the amount of olive oil you use for the fennel by the amount of fat left behind from cooking the sausage.
When you serve this dish, use a sharp knife to cut through the browned layer of mozzarella cheese and divide into servings. You’ll avoid dragging the cheese down to the bottom of the baking dish and everyone will get some of the wonderfully toasted cheese.

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