Baked Penne with Sausage, Mozzarella and Tomatoes

Here’s a great penne pasta recipe that you’ve got to try! My mom and I got together this weekend to cook since our husbands were both out of town and we discovered this great new recipe from the October 2012 issue of Departures magazine.

I’m not sure of the exact calorie count, but I do believe this baked penne pasta is fairly healthy, especially when you make a few substitutions like we did. The recipe calls for sweet Italian sausage and to cut fat, we bought Jennie-O lean sweet Italian turkey sausage. One whole link is only 10 grams of fat and 160 calories. By comparison, most single serving portions of regular sausage contains 30 plus grams of fat! 

In addition, the béchamel sauce, also known as a white sauce, has only two tablespoons of butter and one cup of milk (we used skim).  All that’s left in this dish is penne pasta, diced tomatoes, fresh Mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, basil, oregano, garlic and red pepper flakes.

As far as taste goes, we loved it! The recipe is simple, and the combination of Italian herbs, tomatoes, cheese and sausage is outstanding. When Matt returned to town, I reheated him a small bowl of the baked penne.  To my surprise, he requested seconds because he liked it so much! Yes! A recipe that is “man” approved! Enjoy and let me know what you think.
Cook sausage until firm. 
Cut sausage into thin slices and return to pan to finish cooking.
Saute until sausage is lightly browned. Add sliced garlic and cook until fragrant.
Add tomatoes, oregano, and pepper flakes. 
Melt butter and add flour. Whisk in hot milk. Stir constantly until béchamel sauce has thickened.
Add béchamel sauce to tomato-sausage mixture.
Stir in chopped basil.  Then add penne.
Pour half of the pasta mixture in a greased baking dish.
Add Mozzarella.
Topp with remaining pasta mixture and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Bake for 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees F.
Let cool for 5 minutes then serve.

Baked Penne with Sausage, Mozzarella and Tomatoes
Ingredients
2 tsp. olive oil
3/4 lb. sweet Italian sausage (we used Jennie-O lean sweet Italian turkey sausage)
3 cloves garlic, sliced
3 cups chopped tomatoes
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. oregano
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup hot milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil
8 oz. penne pasta
6 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium. Add the sausage and cook for a few minutes until firm. Remove them from the pan and allow to cool. Cut them into thin slices, return to the skillet and cook until they start to brown. Add the garlic and sauté briefly, then add the tomatoes, pepper flakes and oregano and cook for a few minutes. Do not allow the tomatoes to break down; they should remain in chunks.
3. Make the béchamel: Melt the butter in a saucepan set over medium. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Cook for about 2 minutes before gradually whisking in the hot milk until the sauce is smooth. Continue cooking until it begins to thicken. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Add the béchamel to the sausages and tomatoes and stir until well combined. Stir in the basil.
5. Once the salted water reaches a boil, cook the penne until it is about a minute away from al dente. Drain well, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water; add the pasta to the sausage-tomato sauce and mix well. If the mixture is dry, add some of the water.
6. Transfer half of the pasta to a greased baking dish, layer with the mozzarella and cover with the remaining pasta. Sprinkle the Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top and place the dish on the oven’s upper rack. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until a light golden crust forms. Remove and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Yield: 4-6 servings
Recipe from: Departures | October 2012

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