so, we got a new camera. correction. brian got a new camera. however, he's letting me play around with it on my recipe posts sooooo - i hope you find these posts more appetizing and easy on the eyes. in fact, i hope you find most posts like that as we take it out more. secondly! this recipe used three types of cheese - three! granted they're the italian cheeses i grew up on and mostly tasteless but still...let's have a moment of awe for me.
when brian and i got back from virginia it was a pretty nasty day - grey, cold, rainy - the type of day where you want an easy, but comforting meal. even if it is the middle of august. when in that situation, always turn to the italians. in this case i turned to them and found this baked penne with sausage and creamy ricotta (the recipe tells you to make the ricotta, we just bought it fresh from the grocery store). in addition to what's listed in the title, you'll also need a 28-oz can of crushed or pureed tomatoes, ground fennel, a bay leaf, sugar, mozzarella, parm, and the usual suspects: garlic, salt and pepper.
after frying the sausage with a little garlic (we used sweet italian sausage), add the water, tomato puree, bay leaf, fennel and sugar - bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. in the meanwhile, boil your penne until al dente.
let's have a word about seasoning while we wait for that to happen.
this recipe only calls for 1/4 tsp of ground fennel - miniscule compared to the amount of other ingredients, it seems like one you can skip. and since the store only had fennel seeds, and i don't have a grinder, it seemed we would do just that. but when missing a spice i always use google to find a substitute spice, if any exists. as luck would have it, i had anise, often used in the place of fennel, thanks to this duck recipe. not as common as fennel but, naturally, i had it. and, naturally, that little 1/4 tsp elevated the whole dish. each bite i could taste the little sweet/licorice/tartness (it's a hard flavor to describe, but a good one). moral of the story: spices can go a long way people, let's not forsake them.
when both of those are done, remove the bay leaf from the sauce, then add the sausage to the penne with a slotted spoon, along with a cup of the tomato sauce. pour the penne into a baking dish, top with the remaining tomato sauce, and dollop large spoonfuls of the ricotta on top.
fold the ricotta in gently - then top with the pieces of mozzarella and parm.
bake for 45 minutes in a hot oven.
let rest of 20 minutes (the hard part, i only let it rest for 10 because, come on!)
serve with a little side salad. delicious and it makes a lot of leftovers (if you're not feeding a lot of people), making some lunches and dinners an easy reheat for the rest of the week. have fun cooking and enjoy!