Creamy Baked Rigatoni with Italian Sausage

Today we’re going to talk about emergency survival rations.  I take my civic duties pretty seriously here, so today I’m going to offer you some sage culinary advice on how to be prepared for some of life’s unexpected little curve balls.

So let’s say, for instance, that you’re moving your 87-year-old parents across the country to live closer to you, and you’ve planned the actual trip quite meticulously.  Household goods are on the moving van heading in the right direction, airline tickets are in order,  and plans are in place for negotiating the airport for a gate change in Denver to make the connecting flight home.  Of course you’ll all be expecting to feel a little tired after packing up and moving a life-time’s worth of treasures and belongings, but you’re ready for that too. 

But let’s say the connecting airline doesn’t get the memo about your neatly-laid plans and decides to delay your flight not once, not twice, no, not three times, but four, possibly 5 times (we lost count), and the nice little 4 ½-hour trip you had planned which would get you all home in plenty of time to relax, have a glass of wine and a nice dinner turns into a 12 or 13-hour odyssey that at long last dumps you off at your home airport well into the night and leaves you dragging your nether parts into the front door long past dinner time.  And, of course, you’re beat tired and starving.

Survival tip #1… Pour a glass of wine.  Or any adult beverage of your choice.

Survival tip #2… Take that luscious baked rigatoni, that you made before you left, out of the refrigerator

 

and stick it in the oven.  Put your suitcase somewhere you can’t see it, put your feet up and try to forget the last 13 hours of your life.  

Pull that now bubbling, golden brown baked pasta out of the oven, grab a fork and congratulate yourself on a job well done.  You survived…. you’re home, you’re well fed and all is right with the world once again.

As with most emergency survival-type situations, you cannot wait until the moment of crisis to create your exit strategy… this must be done ahead of time.  To that end, I encourage you to head to your kitchen immediately and make this awesome creamy baked rigatoni and stick it in your freezer.  Life is uncertain.  Baked pasta can save you.

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Creamy Baked Rigatoni with Italian Sausage

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You can use spicy or sweet Italian sausage for this.  If using spicy, you can reduce the amount of crushed red pepper or eliminate it altogether, depending on how spicy you like your pasta.
Serves 8-10

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
1 lb Italian sausage, casings removed
1 cup mascarpone cheese
(2) large cans Italian tomatoes
2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried marjoram
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 lb rigatoni pasta, cooked about 1 minute less than the package instructions
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
12 oz grated fontina or mozzarella cheese (divided)

Combine the grated parmesan and grated fontina cheese.  Separate about 1/3 cup to use for the top and set aside.
Use a hand blender, food processor or standing blender to break down the tomatoes.  You can leave little bits if you would like the sauce more chunky, or completely puree them if you like.  I do not recommend using canned tomato puree for this.
Preheat the oven 375 degrees.
In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil and add the onion and garlic.  Saute until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the Italian sausage, marjoran and crushed red pepper (if using), and saute until pretty well cooked through.  Add the tomatoes and salt and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, about 15 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the mascarpone cheese.
Add the cooked rigatoni to the sauce, mix well, and then stir in the parmesan and grated fontina or mozzarella cheese.  Place in a large 4-qt. baking pan or casserole dish (or two medium-sized ones) and top with the remaining cheeses.

Bake for 30 minutes or until bubbly and the top is golden brown.  If using a large baking pan, you may need to bake this an extra 10 minutes.  

Note:  I like to put this in two medium casserole dishes and stick one in the freezer.  In case of emergency, pull it out of the freezer and thaw in the microwave while the oven is preheating.  Bake according to the directions.