Pasta Gratin with Sausage & Mushrooms

This Italian casserole has been a family favorite for 30 years now.  I remember visiting my sister Tina way back when, absolutely falling in love with this dish she had made for the first time, and immediately asking for pen and paper to copy down the recipe.

I’ve had a lot of Italian baked pasta dishes in my time but never one quite like this or as delicious as this.  The baked pasta does not have a traditional sauce but rather bits and pieces of tomatoes distributed throughout along with clumps of Italian sausage and chunks of onions and mushrooms giving it an earthy undertone.  The generous amount of Romano cheese along with the cream make more of a coating than a sauce, and the Romano imparts its own robust cheesy zip.  When you take into account the garlic, wine, and fresh parsley as well as seasonings, you’ve got a fabulously delicious 5-star Italian casserole.  Comfort food doesn’t get any better than this.

When my kids were older and eating me out of house and home, I would routinely double this casserole.  Otherwise, there would be bloodshed over who would get to finish off the leftovers—that is, if there were any leftovers at all.  The pasta reheats beautifully, and I imagine it would freeze well but I never had any left to freeze—even when I doubled it.

Oh yes, it makes a company-worthy presentation; and there is the added benefit of being able to make it earlier in the day and refrigerating it which leaves you free to relax and enjoy your company when they arrive.  There is no last-minute prep—just stick it in the oven, bake, and serve along with a nice green salad.

But if I were you, I wouldn’t wait for company to enjoy this frantastic pasta gratin!

One year ago:  Chicken and Sweet Potato Quinoa Stew

Two years ago:  Fran’s Vegetable Soup with Sausage, Baked Ziti

Pasta Gratin with Sausage & Mushrooms

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Ingredients

  • 2 – 3 tbl. olive oil
  • 1 medium to large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 lb. bulk sweet Italian sausage
  • salt to taste
  • freshly ground pepper (3 or 4 turns of pepper mill)
  • pinch dried thyme
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 28-oz. can tomatoes—drained, seeded, and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 lb. ziti or rigatoni
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Romano cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Directions

In large (at least 12″) frying pan, sauté onion in oil over medium heat until soft (6-10 mins.).  Add crumbled sausage.  Break up meat with wooden spoon, until sausage is browned.  Season with salt and thyme.   Add mushrooms and garlic; toss and cook 3  to 4 minutes more.  Drain excess fat.  Add wine; then increase heat and reduce until nearly dry.  Add tomatoes and reduce sauce until thick.  Add pepper and adjust seasonings to taste.  Add 1/4 cup parsley and set aside.

Boil pasta until al dente; drain and rinse under cold water.  Butter bottom of a lasagna pan.  Place half of pasta on bottom; then layer half of sausage mixture over pasta.  Sprinkle with half of the Romano cheese and drizzle 1/2 cup of the heavy cream over cheese.  Repeat with a second layer of the remaining ingredients, ending with the cheese and cream.

Bake at 400o until bubbly and lightly golden, about 25 to 30 mins.  Garnish with fresh parsley and serve immediately.  Serves 4 to 6.

Fran’s Notes

When my children were younger, they didn’t like the pasta on top to be too golden—they preferred all the pasta to be “soft.”  In order to accommodate them, I would cover the pan making sure that no aluminum foil touched the tomatoes (the citric acid will eat through the foil) and bake it covered for 20 minutes.  Then I would remove the foil and bake another 5 to 10 minutes.

Source:  A 30-year old family recipe from my sister Tina

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