Notice I didn’t call this “Sausage and Pepper Penne?” That would be plagiarism. What makes this version better than the one from the popular Italian chain restaurant is, well…several things. It’s far less expensive to make it at home. You can make it as hot or mild as you like. And, you can customize it with the ingredients you prefer and what’s already in the fridge and pantry. Here’s our favourite version of Baked Pasta with Sausage and Peppers.
Start by sauteing some onion in olive oil. Squeeze the meat out of the casings of sausages in chunks, then break them up while cooking. Use hot Italian sausage if you like some heat or mild sausage if you don’t. We like some heat. I usually use 2 sausages for a 4 serving size. Add fennel seed. I like to use this because it helps enhance the authentic Italian sausage flavour. Heating spices always brings out their flavour so add them to the pan before you add the sauce ingredients.
Add some garlic, chopped peppers and mushrooms.
I like to use red, orange or yellow peppers. Not green. Maybe it’s my imagination but I think cooked green peppers taste funny. Like funny strange, not funny haha.
At this point you can open a jar of prepared pasta sauce and pour it in. Any kind works. But making your own sauce is relatively easy and healthier. Chop up about 4 big tomatoes or about 8 Romas. Squeeze out the seeds but don’t worry abut the skin. Add dried oregano, fresh basil and 1 can of tomato paste. Pour in about 1/4 cup of red wine. I usually pour the wine into the can of paste and stir it around because it helps get all the tomato paste out of the can.
See how the tomato paste transforms this into a thick rich tomatoey sauce that will coat the pasta well? Make sure to taste at this point and add salt and pepper.
Now, bring a pot of water to a boil and add 2 cups of dried pasta. It doesn’t sound like a lot but when mixed with everything else it’s the right amount, otherwise you get a dried up dish heavy on the pasta. You can use any medium sized pasta you like. You want something that’s bite sized. I used fusilli. Penne is a good size too.
Cook the pasta a little less than directed on the box – it should be al dente, not perfectly cooked. Maybe one minute less than directed. Drain the pasta, saving a bit of the water. Mix the cooked pasta with the sauce and add a bit of pasta water if its not very saucy. The pasta will absorb some of the liquid from the sauce while baking.
Shred 2 cups of cheese, using a combo of mozzarella for the melty oozy part and a sharper cheese like cheddar for a stronger taste. Mix the cheeses together and add about 1/3 to the pasta. Stir, then pour into a baking dish. Top with the rest of the cheese. A wider shallow dish is best so you can maximize the cheesy topping area.
Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes until bubbly and slightly brown on top.
You can make this in advance and bake later, just increase the time to about 40 -45 minutes to ensure it’s heated through.
Here’s the recipe:
Baked Pasta with Sausage and Peppers
- 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion about half regular onion
- 2 hot or mild Italian sausages
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 4 large mushrooms, sliced
- 1 cup red, yellow or orange pepper about 1 regular pepper
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 handful fresh basil
- 4 large tomatoes, or 8 Roma
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 1 can tomato paste, small 156 ml can
- 2 cups dry small pasta like fusilli or penne
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
- Heat olive oil in large wide skillet. Finely chop onion and saute to soften.
- Squeeze sausage from casings into pan and cook for about 5 minutes, breaking up lumps into smaller bites. When meat is browned, add fennel seeds and cook to toast slightly.
- Finely mince garlic, slice mushrooms and chop pepper. Add to pan and cook for about 5 minutes.
- Chop and seed tomatoes and add to pan. Add basil and oregano. Simmer for about 5 minutes until tomatoes are softening. Add tomato paste and wine. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Continue to simmer on stove top while pasta is cooking.
- Bring large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta for 1 minute less than directions on package. Drain, reserving some pasta water. Add pasta to sauce and stir well. Add a few ladles of pasta cooking water to the mixture.
- Shred cheeses and add about 1/3 of each cheese to the pasta mixture and combine. Pour into large shallow baking dish. Top with remaining cheeses.
- Bake at 350 degrees in the centre of the oven for about 30 minutes until the top is browning slightly and bubbling.