Hold the standing rib roast. Scratch the filet mignon. In reality, most of our holiday gatherings call for easy dishes that can be made ahead and popped in the oven while relaxing with friends. A homey pasta casserole with cheese, sausage and mushrooms that everyone, even the kids, will love forms a praise-worthy centerpiece for any potluck or family party. Best of all, the sausage-mushroom mixture can be made a day ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container. Rewarm over low heat before combining with the pasta.
Cremini mushrooms star in this comfy dish. Dark brown in color, cremini have a fuller flavor than white button mushrooms. In fact, they are less mature, diminutive Portobello mushrooms.
Another star is fontina cheese. While fontinas are produced in Denmark, France, Sweden and the United States, the true fontina is Italian. Made from cow’s milk, the cheese is smooth, mild and buttery. It melts beautifully, helping to hold the other ingredients in the casserole together.
Italian sausage provides the savory, heady appeal. Primarily flavored with fennel and anise, the sausage is offered in most groceries in both a sweet and hot version. Buy it either in bulk form or in links (in which case, you’ll need to squeeze it out of its casings).
Rounding out the star ingredients is a béchamel (bay-shah-MEHL) sauce. Often called a “white sauce,” bechamel is made by stirring milk into a flour and butter roux.
Baked Pasta with Sausage, Mushrooms and Fontina
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
12 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed, and quartered
1/2 cup sliced shallots
4 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
1/3 cup dry white wine or reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups 2 percent reduced-fat milk
1 pound dried rigatoni pasta
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with purée
6 ounces Italian fontina, shredded
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat; add sausage. Sauté, breaking up meat until no longer pink and beginning to brown. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon; pour off drippings, leaving behind brown bits. Add remaining oil and mushrooms to pan. Sauté until mushrooms begin to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add shallots; sauté 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and rosemary; sauté 1 minute more. Add wine, increase heat to medium-high, and cook until wine is nearly evaporated. Season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Return sausage to pan and stir to combine.
2. Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly oil a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.
3. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour; cook until foaming but not colored, about 2 minutes. Whisk in milk; bring to a simmer. Cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt.
3. Cook rigatoni according to package directions, undercooking it by 3 minutes. Drain; return to pot. Add sausage mixture to pasta; toss well. Add white sauce (béchamel) and crushed tomatoes; stir to combine. Stir in fontina and 2 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano.
4. Transfer pasta mixture to baking dish. Sprinkle remaining Parmigiano Reggiano over top; cover with foil. Bake 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake 10 minutes more. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Serves 8.
Recipe by Laraine Perri
Per serving: 527 calories, 21g fat, 57mg chol., 26g prot., 57g carbs., 3gfiber, 768mg sodium
Look for Relish magazine, celebrating America’s love of food, each month in the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin. For more recipes, go to relish.com
Photo credit: Mark Boughton Photography; styling by Teresa Blackburn