Sometimes I find inspiration for meals in the oddest of locales. There I was, minding my own business in Superstore (for those not in the know, Superstore is a huge grocery store chain in Canada, with their own cheap and cheerful clothing line, housewares, and other big box store stuff. They don't sell tires though.) when I sauntered down the bake ware aisle, just for fun. I love all things kitchen. I could spend hours examining pots and bowls and wooden spoons and vegetable peelers. Kitchen stuff is my crack. Good thing my little green kitchen is tiny, so my habit is fairly under control. Until I find something I must have this very second. Like this new line of stoneware Superstore has in stock now. I found the most perfect red baking dish. It's deep, like 3L deep, with nice high sides. But really, it's the red that got me. And the price. $17.99!!! Deal of the day.
While looking at this perfect baking vessel, I thought hmmm....pasta would bake up lovely in this, with its cheesy goodness self contained with the high sides. And oh, I have some excellent Pine View Farms Italian sausage in the freezer, along with some cherry tomatoes ready to burst from ripeness, and half block of mozzarella that should find a purpose too. There. Dinner planned, just from looking at my deal. I skipped over to the produce aisle (no I didn't really skip - that would be silly) and picked out some good looking Swiss chard, because all of a sudden I wanted a ricotta cheese filling, with greens in it, and I love chard over spinach any day. Grabbed a can or two of crushed tomatoes and I was set. Superstore, I love you.
Cavatappi is a curly, corkscrew pasta, which I kind of love. It has more personality than rotini or penne, though in a pinch those would work well here too. So would lasagna noodles, if you wanted to go that route. It's all about the sauce and noodles and cheese. You can leave the sausage out of the sauce too, but I love the really good quality sausage that Pine View produces. Very lean and jam packed with flavour. Splash in some red wine too, if you have some sitting on the counter that needs to be used up (ha!!!) or crack open a bottle, and drink the rest with your fabulous dinner.
There are a few steps here, but it's not too fussy. The ricotta filling is well worth it - I daresay it makes the dish. Well, that and the bubbling mozzarella on top. Where would we be without cheese?
Baked Cavatappi with Italian Sausage, Ricotta and Swiss Chard
1 small box (375g) of cavatappi (or your favourite pasta)
1 pound good quality Italian sausage, mild or hot
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp dried oregano, basil
pinch of hot pepper flakes, or more
few glugs of red wine
1 796 ml can crushed tomatoes
small handful of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 tbsp honey
salt and pepper to taste
1 500g tub of ricotta cheese (not low fat)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried basil
pinch hot pepper flakes
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped
salt and pepper
3 cups shredded mozzarella
Cook pasta until it's still a little firm - it will cook more in the oven. When cooked, drain, and set aside. To make the sauce, heat a large sauce pan over medium high heat. Squeeze the sausage out of the casings, and cook until no longer pink inside, breaking up with a wooden spoon. Add the chopped onion and garlic and herbs. Cook until the onions are translucent. Add the glugs of wine, if you wish, let reduce for a bit, then add your crushed tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, honey and a little salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring, then reduce heat to med low and simmer for about half hour, stirring now and again. Adjust seasonings. In the mean time, in a large bowl, mix together the ricotta, egg, Parmesan and seasonings. Heat a fry pan, add a little olive oil and saute the onion until translucent and then add the chard. Cook until soft. Let cool a bit, then add to the cheese mixture.
To assemble: in a large, deep 3L casserole dish, lay down some sauce, then half noodles, then the ricotta filling, then more noodles, sauce and finish with the mozzarella. Bake until cheese is bubbly and golden, about 30 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before cutting into. Serve with crusty bread and a big salad. Makes lots for 6.
The baking dish did not disappoint! I didn't think to grease it, and low and behold it washed like a dream - no stuck-on cheesy bits to give me grief. I'm happy I added the red dish to my inventory of cool kitchen stuff....I can foresee it baking up wonderful crisps and cobblers, maybe even a scalloped potato or two. They also sell little 3L roasters, complete with lid, for the same price. I may have to make another trip....