I think this is more of an Italian-American dish that straight Italian – someone who knows will no doubt tell me. It’s similar to a Lasagne, but without the need to make two sauces. It’s cheap, it goes a long way and it’s delicious.
So, here’s what’s needed.
- 500g hot Italian sausage (mix together 500g pork mince, 1 tbsp ground fennel seeds, 1tsp salt, 1tsp ground black pepper, 1 tbsp good balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp chilli flakes).
- A little extra virgin olive oil for frying.
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- 1 carton of passata
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp basil
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 50g grated parmesan
- Either 250g grated mozzarella or 125g grated mozzarella and 125 sliced provolone. Provolone is getting kinda hard to find in the UK, hence the option.
- 1 carton of sour cream – usually about 200ml
- 400g dried Rigatoni or Ziti (big tubes) pasta. Offering Rigatoni as a substitute here as Ziti has gone the same way os provolone in the UK.
- Salt for seasoning.
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees / Gas Mark 5.
First up, we’re going to make the ragu. Lightly brown the sausage in a little olive oil. Add in the onions and garlic, stirring frequently over a medium heat and taking care not to burn the garlic, until the onion is softened.
Add the balsamic vinegar, basil and oregano and continue to stir for a minute or two until the hissing from the vinegar dies down a bit.
Add the tomato puree and mix in well, then add the tin of tomatoes, the passata, and the brown sugar.
Bring all this up to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for around 30 minutes. You want the tomato cooked and the whole thing reduced a little. You’ll see from the surface when the tomato is cooked as the oil will begin to separate a little and it’ll go a lovely glossy dark red.
While this is simmering, drop the pasta into a large pot of boiling salted water (please, no oil in there) and cook for around 8 minutes until al dente.
While that is simmering, butter the insides of a large casserole dish.
Once the sauce is ready, we want to start constructing the Ziti. First off, put a layer of half of the pasta in the bottom of the casserole dish.
If you’re using provolone, layer all of it on top of the pasta, otherwise layer half of the mozzarella and a quarter of the parmesan.
Top this with all of the soured cream and spread it over with a knife.
Next, layer on half of the ragu.
Next is a layer of the remainder of the pasta.
Then the other half of the ragu.
Finally, add the remaining mozzarella and parmesan.
Bake uncovered in the centre of the oven until either the cheesy is all melty and brown or until you can’t take the smell any longer and need to devour it.
Note: this makes enough food to feed four or five people easily. As an alternative to doing the whole lot in a single big dish, you can construct individual servings in little foil trays and freeze before cooking.