Thursday, July 5, 2012

Campanelle Pasta Bake

Folks, if I don't say so myself, this pasta bake is a walk in the park, and can take as little as thirty minutes.  I like to make my sauces from scratch when tomatoes are in season, but today, I got a little help from the store.  You can even use your favorite bottled pasta sauce, which will surely save you  a lot of time and effort.  I like to use fresh aromatics, onions, garlic, citrus, as well as herbs, as much as possible. So whether you are suffering the mid-week slump or the end of week "Yuks", this recipe is perfect.  If you have some energy and want to get in some culinary therapy, this is also the recipe for you!  Get in some "think time" chopping and slicing your veggies. Whatever the case, add this to your quick and easy recipe arsenal. 

                       Check out the starting line-up:

3 large cloves garlic, sliced into thin chips (a lot, I know, but I love garlic)
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (now known as evoo thanks to Rachael Ray).
1 can fire roasted tomatoes, 12 or 16 oz can (or, you can roast your own)
1 28 oz can of pureed tomatoes  (I LOVE Cento)
3 or 4 spicy sausages diced (I used Chiptole and Smoked Kielbasa sausages)
2 sprigs fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried oregano  
8 or so leaves of fresh basil
1 package fresh cherry or grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
Juice of half a lemon
2 or 3 tablespoons (Cento) Red Wine Vinegar (or your own favorite)
2 tablespoons of Paprika
1 Fresno chili, diced
1 large red or yellow onion, diced
1 pound of Campanelle pasta  (But, of course, you can use whatever pasta you have on hand, or want.  I used the Campanelle due its ruffled bell shape which holds sauce very well.  Penne or Rigatoni, or any spiral pasta works great, as well).  
3/4 cup grated Mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

This couldn't be simpler, gentle readers:

Using a cutting board or chopping block and a sharp culinary knife, slice the garlic into chips and place into a high-sided sauce pan or dutch oven with the evoo with no heat on. When the garlic has been in the oil for about five or so minutes, turn the heat on to low.  You want to infuse the oil with that amazing garlic flavor.  My garlic is Mexican garlic, and is larger and the "paper" is a bit purple.  It's great.  Love it.  Meanwhile, seed and finely chop the red Fresno chili (they have a bite, but they have a mild, floral-like flavor;  I am growing these in my potted garden), the onion, the basil and oregano, and set aside.  

On a different chopping block and with a different knife, quarter and chop the sausages in to small pieces, about a quarter of a penny or nickle, if you can.  You can always use a packaged ground sausage, if you like, which will save you time and effort.  I used two Chipotle and two Smoked Kielbasa sausage links.  Great combination of flavor!  Set aside for a moment. 

Now that the prep is done, crank up the heat to moderate-high, and add the onion and chili. Add a pinch of salt to help the onions "sweat".  When the onions are just getting soft, add the sausages. Cook until the edges of the sausages just begin to crisp.  Add the red wine vinegar to deglaze the pan.  Scrape the bottom to get that burned flavor into the mix.   At that point, add the can of fire roasted tomatoes.You could add the fire roasted tomatoes first, and then scrape.  Who cares?

By now, have the pot of water boiling.  Once it boils, liberally salt the water and add the Campanelle pasta.  Stir well to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom.  

Add the 28 ounce can of pureed tomato to the mixture, followed by the Italian seasoning, the Paprika, and half of your fresh herbs.  If you are using dried herbs only, add them now.  No fuss, no muss!  Stir to incorporate the seasonings and the tomato puree well.  When the pot begins to boil, reduce the heat to low, place the lid over it, but askew enough to allow steam to escape.  Allow to slow simmer for about fifteen or more minutes.  Take the lid off at that point, and crank the heat to just about medium for five or so more minutes and stir well to get those flavors married well.  Grate a little Parmigiano Reggiano into the pot and mix.  This is going to be great!

Dump the pasta in to the boiling pot of water after you salt it, and cook until just before al dente (just before done, according to the package directions).  To know, just pull on one out on a spoon and taste it when it cools.  Pour the pasta into a strainer over the sink.  

Now, there are two ways to go about this.  If you are tired and just want to get it over with, add the pasta to the sauce and thoroughly mix it.  Sprinkle some Parmigiano Reggiano over the top and have at it!  But if you have the time, and want to make this a true "bake", then spray a baking dish or pan (about a 10" x 10" pyrex type of pan, or even a 9" x 13" pan will be fine) with non-stick cooking spray or oil it well with evoo on a paper towel.  Add heaping spoon fulls of sauce until the bottom of the pan is coated nicely.  Be generous!  Cover the sauce with a layer of the Campanelle pasta.  Grate Parmigiano Reggiano cheese over the pasta and cover that with a thick spread of sauce.  Top the sauce with both some Parm-Regg and the Mozzarella cheese and bake until the Mozzarella begins to brown, about fifteen to eighteen minutes at 375 degrees.  Such great flavor!

Top with the rest of the fresh herbs and serve!  Hope you enjoy this!  Following are some photos of the process.  

I had some sauce and pasta left over from adding it to the baking dish, so I added the pasta to the pot, grated in some cheese, mixed, and that was dinner tonight!  Have a nice piece of bread to mop up the remaining sauce.  That could be a meal all in itself!

 And, the final product!