Baked Pasta With Mascarpone, Sausage, & Mushrooms

I am very excited to share that as of April 3rd, I am now a twice monthly contributor at Serious Eats and my category is called Italian Easy. Throughout the twelve years I’ve hosted Italian Food Forever, I’ve slowly changed my focus on Italian cuisine and my recipes have evolved to reflect that change. I would describe most of my recipes as casual, home-style Italian, and I love teaching cooks at every level that superb Italian food needn’t be time consuming or overly complex. The essence of Italian cooking today is simplicity. One uses the freshest seasonal ingredients possible, and then uses basic cooking techniques to simply enhance the natural flavor of the food.

I now am presently fortunate enough to live in North America six months a year, and Umbria, Italy the other six months where we run a vacation house for guests and I cater meals and give Umbrian cooking classes in my farmhouse kitchen. Whether I am in North America, or Italy, I find it exceptionally easy to continue these basic principles of creating honest, full flavored Italian dishes with minimal effort simply by using good quality, seasonal ingredients. I will be sharing my favorite Italian Easy recipes on Serious Eats twice a month, choosing recipes that I personally love and make in my own kitchen. Many recipes will be seasonal, others will be regional specialties, and some will simply be traditional Italian favorites, but my goal is to choose full flavored recipes that do not require hours in the kitchen and include easy to find ingredients. I will share the links to these recipes at Italian Easy here at Italian Food Forever so you won’t miss a single recipe!

I do not think I’ve ever met a bowl of pasta I didn’t like. I love pasta of every shape and description, and enjoy the endless combinations of recipes you can create with different sauces and types of pasta. I must admit though that baked pasta for me is true Italian comfort food. Whether it is a dish of lasagna combining layers of tender sheets of homemade egg noodles and rich meaty sauce, or a simple, easy to assemble casserole type dish like this one, there isn’t anything more pleasing to the palate than a bowl of rustic baked pasta. Baked pasta is also a terrific idea for busy families or for entertaining as well because you can get all the preparation completed ahead of time, and simply pop the dish into the oven just before dining. When making a baked pasta casserole dish such as this one, I always cook the pasta two to three minutes less than the recommended cooking time before assembling the ingredients for the oven as the pasta will continue to cook as it bakes, and you do not want mushy pasta.

I decided to use mascarpone cheese in this recipe as it has an amazingly creamy texture that works well with savory dishes, as well as sweet ones. Most people know that mascarpone is used in Tiramisu, but it works just as well in pasta sauces. Mascarpone is an Italian cheese made simply from heavy cream, coagulated with citric acid, and is surprisingly easy to make at home. Similar to ricotta cheese which is made with milk and citric acid, using heavy cream in place of milk creates a luscious, rich, creamy cheese. Although not light in calories, I love to use mascarpone in some of my savory dishes as it rarely breaks down in the cooking process, and adds a delightful silkiness to any sauce. The addition of mascarpone to this recipe creates a rich and creamy pasta dish, and although it is elegant enough for guests, it is so easy to prepare, it would also be a terrific option for a mid-week family meal. The cheesy crisp topping adds texture, while the addition of mushrooms and sausage ensures this pasta dish is hearty enough to be a main dish entree. Add some crusty Italian bread and a mixed green salad and dinner is complete.

I use mild Italian sausage in my pasta dish, but if you like a little heat, feel free to use spicy Italian. I also use Baby Bella mushrooms, but you could use a combination of mushrooms, or even button mushrooms if you prefer. It is best to use a short dried pasta for this dish such as penne, rigatoni, fusilli, or pasta shells. If you prefer to create a vegetarian version of this dish, skip the sausage and add additional mushrooms, chopped artichoke hearts, or a combination of the two. You can either make this dish as one large 13- by 9-inch casserole, or bake 6 individual smaller casseroles.

Buon Appetito!
Deborah Mele 2014

Baked Pasta With Mascarpone, Sausage, & Mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • 5 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
  • 3 Links Italian Sausage (About 3/4 Pound Total), Casings Removed (See Notes Above)
  • 8 Ounces Fresh Baby Bella Mushrooms, Sliced (See Notes Above)
  • 1/3 Cup Finely Chopped Onion (about 1/2 Medium)
  • 3 Medium Cloves Garlic, Minced (About 1 Tablespoon)
  • 1 1/2 Cups Mascarpone Cheese
  • 1/2 Cup Whole Milk
  • 1/4 Cup Finely Chopped Fresh Parsley Leaves
  • Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Pound Pasta of Choice Such as Penne, Rigatoni, Fusilli, or Pasta Shells, (See Notes Above)
  • 1/3 Cup Coarse Breadcrumbs
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Fresh Parsley Leaves
  • 1/4 Cup grated Parmesan Cheese (About 1/2 Ounce)

Directions:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until slightly smoking, and add the sausage meat.
  3. Cook until the meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes, breaking it up with a fork as it cooks.
  4. Add the onions, mushrooms, and garlic and cook, stirring often, until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are lightly browned, about 6 minutes.
  5. Reduce the heat to low and add the mascarpone cheese, milk, and chopped parsley.
  6. Stir to mix well, and continue to cook until the mixture is thick, about five minutes.
  7. Season with salt and pepper, and keep warm.
  8. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat oven to 375°F.
  9. Cook the pasta in the boiling water, removing it two to three minutes less than the recommended cooking time.
  10. It should still retain a slightly raw bite in the center.
  11. Reserve a small cup of pasta water, drain, and return pasta to the pot.
  12. Toss the pasta with the mushroom and sausage sauce.
  13. If the sauce is very thick add about 1/4 cup of the pasta water to loosen.
  14. In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, parsley, parmesan, and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, rubbing the oil into the crumbs with your fingertips.
  15. Transfer the pasta to a 13- by 9-inch casserole dish (or 6 smaller ones) and sprinkle the crumb topping over the pasta.
  16. Bake until the pasta is bubbly and top is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.
  17. Serve immediately.