Baked orecchiette with Italian sausage and taleggio sauce

Serve some garlic bread and a salad with this meaty, cheesy pasta dish to make the perfect comfort food meal.

The Runaway Spoon
Baked orecchiette with Italian sausage and taleggio sauce makes a perfect comfort meal.

We all need a little comfort sometimes, and I think a rich, meaty, cheesy baked pasta casserole always fits the bill. It’s the meal I often turn to, whether it’s an all-day cooking project or a simple thrown together quickie.

Pull one of these hot, melty creations out of the oven on a chilly winter night and gather round the table. Everyone will be happy. This is the perfect family meal, but is a wonderful way to entertain as well. Adults and kids alike will dig into this – add some garlic bread and a salad and you’re ready to go. This version is layered with strong flavors for lots of oomph and interest.

Taleggio is one of my favorite cheeses. It’s pungent, rich and creamy and now readily available at good cheese counters. It adds such a punch to this otherwise pretty simple dish. Orcchiette are little ear shaped pasta – that’s what the name means – that perfectly hold the sausage and sauce like a little bowl.

You could use a couple of slices of bacon instead of the pancetta and vary the herbs, using basil and oregano. But I think the sage and marjoram add an interesting, woodsy note that perfectly complements the taleggio. I hope this is a meal that comforts you as much as it does me.

Baked orecchiette with Italian sausage and taleggio sauce
Serves 6

10 ounces orecchiette pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces diced pancetta
1 pound Italian sausage meat
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely diced onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine [editor's note: can substitute cooking wine]
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the orecchiette according to the package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water.

2. Pour the olive oil into a large, deep skillet and add the pancetta. Cook until the pancetta is browned and crispy, then remove it with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate. Crumble the sausage into the pot and cook over medium-high heat, breaking up the meat with a spatula as it cooks. You want small pieces of sausage. When the sausage is no longer pink, remove it with the slotted spoon to the paper towel lined plate.

3. Pour off all put 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan, then sauté the onions over medium high heat until they are soft and just beginning to brown. Add the garlic and sauté for a further minute, then pour in the wine. Bring the wine to a bubble and cook until it is almost completely evaporated, just a little glaze on the now purple onions. Pour in the tomatoes and stir well, then add the sage and marjoram, sugar, salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir well. Let simmer over medium low heat for 5 minutes, then use an immersion blender to puree the sauce to a smooth consistency. Simmer for a further 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool. (Alternatively, you can simmer the sauce for the full 10 minutes, then puree it in a blender and leave to cool).

4. Stir the pancetta and sausage into the tomato sauce until well combined and evenly distributed. Add the pasta and stir to coat with the sauce, then scrape the lot into a greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish. (If your skillet isn’t big enough to fit the pasta, scrape everything into the pasta pot to combine).

For the Taleggio Sauce
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
6-1/2 ounces taleggio cheese, weighed after the rind is removed
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Wash and dry the skillet and melt the butter over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour until smooth, and cook for a few minutes until the mixture is pale and thickened. Whisk in the milk and bring to a low bubble. Cook until the sauce is thickened and smooth, then stir in the sage, salt and nutmeg. Lower the heat to low, then stir in pieces of the taleggio a bit at a time, stirring until each addition is melted before adding the next.

2. Stir in the parmigiana until melted and the sauce is smooth. Taste and season with salt if needed. Pour the sauce evenly over the pasta in the baking dish. You can sprinkle a little extra grated Parmesan over the top of your like. At this point, the dish can be cooled, covered and refrigerated for a day.

3. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the dish from the oven while the oven is preheating, then bake the dish uncovered until heated through, bubbling and lightly browned on top.

Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Italian Sausage and White Bean Soup with Orecchiette

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