Baked Rigatoni with Sausage and Swiss Chard

Baked Rigatoni with Sausage and Swiss Chard





I loved baked pasta.  This Baked Rigatoni with Sausage and Swiss Chard is packed with meaty, savory flavors that are more reminiscent of a spaghetti bolognese than the typical cheesy baked pasta.  A lot of baked pasta dishes, which I love by the way, are heavy, cheesy, and dense.  This dish is a little lighter but just as flavorful.

Notes

This pasta dish is inspired by a white bean casserole that I’ve been making for a while.  I love the flavors, but it always felt a little too heavy for a side, but a little too light for a main dish.  So I had the bright idea to replace the beans and add pasta, and this is what I came up with.

You can use either hot or mild Italian sausage, but I strongly suggest using hot sausage.  This entire dish is built upon the flavor of the sausage and the fat rendered from browning it.  The amount of extra flavor you get from the hot sausage far outweighs the minimal level of spice.

This is a dish that needs to be seasoned fairly aggressively.  When sauteing the vegetables make sure you immediately salt the vegetables, which will draw out a lot of water.  You want to saute the veggies until the moisture evaporates and the bottom of the pot starts to brown, which will maximize their flavor.  You should season again after adding the chard, because like the other vegetables chard is full of water.  Once it cooks down, you’ll need to adjust so that the flavor doesn’t get watered down.  One of the most important things to learn about cooking is how to taste your food, and season as you cook.

Swiss Chard

Swiss chard is an absolutely beautify vegetable, that is vastly underutilized.  It tastes like spinach with a light hint of beet.  You can use the stems, but they can be a little fiberous so I didn’t use them here.  If you want to use the stems,  dice them and saute them with the onions, celery, and carrots.  They take some time to soften, but the stems have a stronger flavor of beet than the leaves.




Ingredients

1 lb. of Italian Sausage, casing removed

1 onion, diced

2 rib of celery, diced

4 carrots, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 red bell pepper, diced

2 green bell peppers, diced

1/2 lb. of Swiss chard, stems removed and leaves cut into bite-sized strips

1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes.

1/2 cup of red wine (I used Pinot Noir.  Don’t break the bank, but use something you’d drink.  After all, there is far more than half a cup in a bottle of wine.)

2 cups of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and bring a gallon of salted water to a boil over high heat.
  2. Brown the sausage in a enameled cast iron dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Once browned, remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving as much fat in the pot as possible.
  3. Saute the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and peppers over medium-high heat until softened and the bottom of the pot begins to brown (If there is not enough sausage fat, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan).  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the red wine and reduce by half, scraping the bottom of the pan to remove any browned bits.  Add the chard and stir until just wilted.  Add the crushed tomatoes and stir to combine.   Turn the heat down to a simmer, and return the sausage to the pot.  Taste for seasoning.
  4. Boil the pasta for two minutes less than the directions on the package.  Reserve a cup of pasta cooking liquid before draining the rigatoni.
  5. Combine the pasta with the sauce, and add a cup of the cheese.  Stir to combine making sure the cheese is evenly distributed.  Transfer the pasta and the sauce to a greased baking dish or casserole pan and cover with the remaining cheese.  There should be enough liquid to cover about half the noodles.  If there is not enough add some of the reserved pasta water.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cheese is browned and you see the liquid bubbling around the edges of the pan.  Let cool for 10 minutes and serve with the rest of the bottle of red wine.

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