Monday, October 04, 2004


Will I sound too much like Good Housekeeping if I call this dish “a hearty crowd-pleaser”? OK, yes, but that’s what it is. I’m a big fan of this recipe—which, as usual, I appropriated from some long-ago-forgotten source. It’s not too fancy, but it doesn’t involve Velveeta or cans of Campbell’s cream-of-mushroom, either. The spinach and pesto keep it from getting too heavy, but there’s still a lot of yummy zesty sausage and gooey cheesiness. You can prepare it ahead of time and it makes a ton of food, so it’s good if you have (casual, unpretentious) guests. I always try to make my own pesto (it's so easy!), but I suppose the store-bought kind is acceptable (if you must) in this case because it blends into the sauce instead of being prominently featured. I, however, had leftover pesto from last week’s Pesto Salmon, and leftover mozzarella from…well, a couple of weeks ago, and I love efficiently using up leftovers, which made this extra satisfying last night.

¾ pound hot Italian sausages (I usually use chicken sausage), casings removed
1 medium onion, choppd
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
28-ounce can diced peeled tomatoes
¼ cup pesto
1 pound ziti or penne pasta
8 cups prewashed fresh spinach leaves (6-7 ounces)
6 ounces mozzarella cheese, cubed
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)

1. Heat salted water in a large pot over high heat for cooking the pasta. When it boils, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

2. While the pasta water is working its way up to a boil, set a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When it's hot, add the onion, garlic, and sausages. Break up the sausage with the back of a spoon as it cooked. Sauté everything until the sausage is cooked through and slightly browned, about 10 minutes.

3. Open the can of tomatoes and add the contents (including juice) to the skillet. Simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Stir in the pesto and season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper. (The recipe helpfully points out that this sauce can be prepared a day ahead. Just do everything [except cook the pasta] up to this point, then cover and refrigerate the sauce until you’re ready to use it. Bring it back to a simmer before continuing.)

4. While the sauce is cooking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch Pyrex baking dish. When the sauce is finished, throw the spinach into the skillet with the sauce, stirring until it's wilted, and add the drained pasta, the mozzarella, and 1/3 cup of Parmesan, mixing everything together well. Pour all of this into the baking dish and sprinkle the remaining 2/3 cups Parmesan over the top.

5. Bake the pasta until the sauce bubbles, the cheeses melt, and top has just begun to brown, about 30 minutes.

Serves: 6-8
Time: 1 hour

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