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Baked Pasta with Chicken Sausage

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Merrill's daughter Clara has quite the appetite -- and it's all Merrill can do to keep up. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, she steps into the fray.

Today: A hearty baked pasta for those fall nights. 

Little Girl Eating Pasta

Some friends of ours in the neighborhood recently had a baby, and I wanted to take them some food to help get them through those first few chaotic weeks. Their first child is a boy Clara's age, and often when they come to our house for a meal, I make pasta with a chicken sausage ragu. They don't eat red meat or pork, but this poultry alternative is a hit with both families.

I wanted to bring them something they could just pop in the oven and eat, so I turned to everyone's favorite Genius baked pasta. I created a hybrid version that incorporated the beloved chicken sausage sauce, forfeiting some of the cream and cheese for a bolder tomato flavor.

Little Girl Eating Pasta Shells

Because it would have seemed like a missed opportunity otherwise, I bought twice the amount of sausages I needed (my favorite are the house-made sweet Italian chicken sausage links at my local Whole Foods, which aren't too lean) and made a pan of pasta for us too. I used penne, which I find is popular with kids (those little tubes are perfectly sized for toddler fingers), but any pasta with a hole to trap the sauce will do.

One word of advice: If you're not going to bake off the finished dish right away, boil the pasta for even less time than the instructions call for (like 2 to 3 minutes). As the pasta lies cradled in delicious sauce in the fridge it will continue to soften, and you don't want it to turn to mush. 

Baked Pasta with Chicken Sausage

Serves 8

1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound fresh sweet Italian sausage (I use chicken, but feel free to use pork)
1/2 onion, diced
Kosher salt
1 fat clove garlic, peeled and smashed
Handful basil leaves
4 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
1 cup heavy cream 
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup ricotta cheese 
1 cups grated mozzarella 
1 pound short pasta (I like penne or conchiglie)
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed 

Photos by Mark Weinberg and James Ransom
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Sausage, Dinner, Weeknight Cooking, Amanda & Merrill, Kids