Empty cupboards…Empty fridge! Oh, jeesh! What’s a girl to do? Why, turn to her trusty casserole dish, of course. After being out of town for almost six days, I was plagued with the ever-daunting bare kitchen, and nor the time or the energy for the grocery store. So, I searched the cupboards high and low. I needed something quick, tasty, and of course bloggable. I came up with a sort of fake-out lasagna pasta bake, using a partial box of lasagna noodles, some Italian sausage, and tomato puree. We really, really enjoyed this dish, and I will definitely remember it when I need another weeknight quickie.
Italian Sausage (I used hot)
Whole Wheat Lasagna Noodles
Tomato Puree (or any canned tomatoes of your liking)
Italian Seasoning (or fresh herbs, of course)
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Start by bringing a large pot of water to boil. Once it reaches a hard boil, add a hefty amount of kosher salt to the water (remember, the water should be just about as salty as sea water, I know it seems like a lot, but pasta needs it). While the water comes to a boil, slice the sausage into bite size pieces.
Add the sausage to a frying pan over medium heat( no need to add oil, the sausage has enough fat in it) and allow to brown and cook almost all the way through.
While the sausage browns, chop some onion and mince some garlic.
When the sausage is almost all the way browned, add the onion and garlic to the pan and continue cooking until sausage is golden and veggies are cooked through.
In the meantime, break up your lasagna noodles. You can really have fun with this. There is no need for uniform pieces, as long as the sizes are similar (so they cook at the same rate). The more rustic the better.
When the sausage is ready, add the tomato puree, salt, pepper, italian seasoning and a bay leaf.
By now, the pasta water should be boiling, so go ahead salt it, and add your noodles. Give them a good stir, until the water returns to a boil. Since it is now in small pieces, you may need to stir the pasta occasionally so it won’t stick, but just occasionally. While the pasta cooks you can make the cheese sauce and preheat your broiler. For the sauce, make a basic roux (you can find a more exact description of how to do this in Meatloaf Meatballs) out of butter and flour. In this case, the roux should be a blond one. You want the flour to cook, but not pick up any color.
After a few minutes, the flour should be cooked through and you can add some milk. You want the final product to be thick but not stiff. I suggest starting out with a little more milk than you think you need for this consistency, because it will reduce a little. Once the sauce comes to a boil, you can reduce the heat and add a hefty handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Stir the sauce until the cheese is completely melted in, then add lots and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Remember, this is a Parmesan Peppercorn sauce, so it should be really peppery.
Now, when your pasta is just al dente (after about 7 minutes start checking it by tasting it), drain it, but don’t shake off too much of the cooking water, it helps everything move around well when you combine the pasta with the sauce. After the pasta is drained, return it to the pot and combine with the red sauce (remember to remove the bay leaf, it is not digestable).
Pour half of the pasta into a casserole dish and top with a few dollops of the Parmesan sauce.
Add the rest of the pasta and a few more dollops and pop into the broiler to brown the cheese sauce and crisp up the top layer of pasta. Keep a close eye on it.
Okay, so my sauce got a little darker than I would have liked, but I swear, those dark spots were the tastiest bits of the entire dish.
ENJOY those burned bits! I sure did.