Thursday, August 20, 2009

Penne a La Vodka Casserole

For Husband's birthday dinner, I referred to an old favorite--Emeril's Penne a La Vodka casserole. It's hearty, delicious, feeds 12 people (which is perfect for a crowd OR when you're trying to stretch your groceries) AND it gave me an excuse to use another goody from my Foodbuzz Tastemaker package--Emeril's Original Essence seasoning. Sometimes I cheat a little (such as using Vodka Sauce from a jar instead of making it from scratch) but you really can't tell the difference. This time I added roasted red peppers for a little extra kick, and I loved the flavor they added. Bonus: It tastes even better the next day--our leftovers lasted us almost a week!

Penne a La Vodka Casserole
adapted from Emeril Lagasse


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, cut into 1-inch slices
1 pound hot Italian sausage, cut into 1-inch slices
2 large onions, diced
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 jar Vodka sauce
1/4 cup roasted red peppers, sliced into strips
1 teaspoon Emeril's Original Essence
1 pound penne pasta
15 ounces ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
11/2 cups grated mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the sausages and cook, stirring, until browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onions, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and the black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are just soft, about 4 minutes. Add the red peppers, basil and garlic, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the Vodka sauce and Essence; stir to mix, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Heat about 4 quarts of water with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt in a large pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, add the pasta, and cook until al dente, 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain well. Combine half of the ricotta cheese and half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano in a large mixing bowl. Add the pasta and toss to coat evenly. Add the sausage mixture and mix well. Add the remaining ricotta cheese and the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano and mix well.

Transfer the mixture to a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the mozzarella. Bake until bubbly and golden, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven. Serve warm with crusty bread.

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