October has arrived, and now it really does feel like fall! The temperatures have dropped significantly, particularly in the evenings, and the trees seem to be changing colors overnight. Although it isn’t quite cold enough to light up our fireplace, cooler temperatures have me wanting to prepare more soups, stews, and heartier, comforting pasta dishes.
I adore baked pasta, whether it is a nice big cheesy lasagna, or a casserole dish of short pasta, meat, and cheese, there is just something about taking that dish out of the oven bubbling hot and golden brown that has me drooling just thinking about it!
My husband is less fond of baked pasta but more for the fact that the pasta can become mushy if overcooked and he likes his pasta VERY al dente! I work hard to overcome this problem by cooking the pasta less in boiling water before assembling it with the other ingredients for the oven since the pasta will keep baking once in the oven.
This week I told my husband that I was craving a baked pasta dish but gave him the choice of ingredients. Of course, since he loves bitter greens of any description, he said he wanted something with cima di rape or broccoli rabe in it. Since sausage goes so well with bitter greens, I included sausage and melded everything in a creamy, cheesy white sauce flavored with sage.
The pasta was a hit and is indeed one that I will be making again and again during the cooler months. Since there are only two of us here in Italy at the moment, I divided the ingredients in half and froze one casserole for future enjoyment. This kind of dish freezes really well, just thaw completely before baking it.
You can also completely prepare this dish the morning you plan to serve it and then refrigerate it which makes it great for entertaining. Just remove the casserole at least an hour or more from the refrigerator to allow it to come to room temperature before baking.
If you do not care for the bitterness of broccoli rabe, you could use either Swiss chard or spinach. I used a mild fennel sausage made locally here in Umbria, but a spicy Italian sausage would also be delicious. For this type of pasta casserole dish, any short variety of pasta works fine. I used mezzi rigatoni, or a half rigatoni shape that I had on hand.
Fall View From Our Property Here In Umbria
Fall Has Arrived!
- 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 Pound Italian Sausage, Meat Removed From Casings (See Notes Above)
- 5 Clove Garlic, Peeled & Minced
- 1 Small Onion, Finely Chopped
- 1 Tablespoon Fresh sage, Finely Chopped
- 3 Cups Prepared Bechamel Sauce
- 4 Cups Grated Medium Soft Cheese (Caciota, Fontina, Asiago)
- Salt & Pepper
- 1/2 Teaspoon Red Chili Flakes (Optional)
- 1 Pound Package Short Pasta (See Notes Above)
- 1 Bunch Broccoli Rabe, Tough Ends Removed, Cut Into 2-inch Pieces
- 1 Cup Heavy Cream
- 1 Cup Grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan Cheese
- In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and add the sausage.
- Cook the meat over medium heat, breaking it up as it cooks until it is no longer pink, about 7 to 8 minutes.
- Add the garlic and onion, and continue to cook, stirring often, until the onions are translucent about 5 minutes.
- Add the fresh sage and continue to cook a minute or two.
- Drain any excess oil from the pan, then add the béchamel sauce and grated cheese.
- Reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring often, until the cheese has melted, about 10 minutes.
- Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes and keep warm.
- Heat a large pot of lightly salted water to boil, then cook the pasta 3 minutes less recommended cooking time.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- During the last 2 minutes of cooking, add the broccoli rabe to the pasta pot.
- Drain the pasta and greens well, then return to the pot.
- Pour in the sausage and cheese sauce and stir to mix.
- Pour the pasta mixture into a large casserole dish (or two smaller ones) and bake covered for 30 minutes.
- Uncover and cook another 10 minutes.
- Pour the cream evenly over the top and sprinkle with the grated cheese.
- Either increase oven heat to high or turn on the broiler and continue to cook until the pasta is bubbling and golden brown.
- Let cool 5 minutes and then serve and enjoy!