I learned how to make Italian sausage from my parents, and out of the seven siblings only my brother Robert and I continue this tradition. His sausage is very lean and his spicing is just right.
Many people think that they need an expensive meat grinder to make pork sausage. Nothing could be further from the truth. All you need is a sausage funnel and natural hog casings. It actually takes longer to make the sausage in a grinder than by hand, and there is the mess to consider afterward.
To make this really simple, ask your butcher to grind a pork butt once on coarse and once on fine grind. Then take it home and follow the instruction in my first book, Ciao Italia, for Salsiccia Fresca. Whether you use homemade or store-bought sausage, this casserole makes a satisfying winter meal.
1 pound homemade sausages or store-bought Italian sausage
1/2 cup water
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 pound penne or other short-cut pasta
3 1/2 cups prepared tomato sauce
1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, cubed
Put the sausage in a sauté pan, add the water, and simmer uncovered until the sausage turns gray. Discard the water and continue cooking the sausage until it begins to brown. Add the onions and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage has browned on all sides and the onions are wilted. Transfer the onions to a bowl. Set aside.
Remove the sausage to a cutting board and allow it to cool for 5 minutes. Cut the sausage in 1/4-inch rounds and add the sausage to the bowl with the onions. Set aside.
Cook the penne in a pasta pot in 4 to 6 quarts of boiling water with 1 tablespoon of salt until it is al dente. Drain the penne and transfer it to the bowl with the sausage. Mix in 3 cups of the sauce and half of the mozzarella.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Transfer the mixture to a 9 Ã— 13 1/2-inch baking dish. Pour the remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake in the oven until bubbly. Serve immediately.
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