Cheesy Pasta al Forno with Italian Sausage
Serves 6 to 8
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 40 to 45 minutes
1/2 medium yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
1 pound uncut low-moisture whole milk mozzarella cheese
2 ounces Parmesan cheese (1 cup firmly packed freshly grated or 2/3 cup store-bought grated)
1 pound uncooked hot or sweet Italian sausage
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 (about 24-ounce) jars marinara sauce (about 6 cups total), divided
1 pound dried rigatoni pasta
Chopped fresh parsley leaves, for serving (optional)
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat.
Get all ingredients prepared.
Dice 1/2 medium yellow onion (about 1/2 cup).
Mince 4 garlic cloves.
Cut 1 pound mozzarella cheese into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups).
Finely grate 2 ounces Parmesan cheese (about 1 packed cup).
Remove the casings from 1 pound Italian sausage if needed.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering.
Add the onion and cook until softened, 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Add the sausage, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.
Cook, breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon or spatula into small pieces, until browned and cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes.
Add 1 jar of the marinara sauce (about 3 cups) and stir to combine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
Remove the pan from the heat.
Add 1 pound rigatoni pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions but for 2 minutes less than al dente, about 8 minutes.
Drain the pasta and return it to the now-empty pot off the heat.
Add the sausage mixture and remaining jar of marinara sauce to the pasta. Fold in until we’ll combined.
Add half of the mozzarella and fold in.
Transfer the mixture to a 9x13-inch baking dish, or divide between 2 (8-inch) baking dishes. You can use disposable foil trays, or a freeze-to-oven-safe baking dish if you’re planning to freeze. Sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.
Bake until the edges are bubbling and the cheese on top is completely melted and browned in spots, about 30 minutes.
Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Garnish with chopped fresh parsley leaves if using.
Make ahead: The unbaked casserole can be prepared up to 2 days in advance, covered with aluminum foil, and refrigerated. When ready to bake, remove from the refrigerator while the oven heats. Uncover and add 5 to 10 minutes to the baking time.
Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Baking from frozen: If you plan to bake the casserole straight from the freezer, you can assemble it in a metal or disposable foil baking dish. Let the unbaked casserole cool completely in the pan, then wrap tightly in aluminum foil and freeze for up to 2 months. Bake the casserole, still wrapped in the foil, at 350ºF until heated through and an instant-read thermometer registers 165°F in the center.
For a frozen casserole, this will take 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours.
For a thawed casserole (thaw overnight in the refrigerator), this will take about 1 hour.
Whether baking from frozen or thawed, bake uncovered for the last 15 minutes so the cheese can brown.
We actually divided this into four separate dishes, using one larger dish for the meal that day, and two smaller 2-meal dishes, and also one individual meal size, the smaller ones to be put in the freezer for another day. The larger dish we had originally, there were leftovers for the next day. Cooking times would be different and I'm not sure by how much. There will be a little bit of guesswork involved.
We served it with a mixed green salad.
We forgot to use the second jar of marinara sauce and didn't realize what we had done until after eating. I noticed later when I picked up the unused jar while tidying the kitchen. It was not missed in the tasting of this dish, not dry at all and so delicious. If we added garlic bread that extra bottle of marinara would be added following the original list of ingredients. Gregg’s suggestion, as he thought he would enjoy dipping his bread in the extra sauce.
Another suggestion of his was that he would like to add sliced mushrooms at the same time he cooks the onions. We both enjoy those.
This recipe was made on a very hot and humid day. Even with our A/C on, our kitchen was like a sauna, so that’s something to think about.
Nothing else to say except that we truly enjoyed this meal!
Thanks for looking and have a great week.