This recipe is adapted from Al Forno's famous baked pasta method — it uses less cream and cheese, and incorporates a hearty sausage ragu for a more tomatoey pasta. A word of advice: if you're not going to bake off the finished dish right away, boil the pasta for even less time than the instructions call for (like 2-3 minutes). As the pasta lies cradled in delicious sauce in the fridge it will continue to soften, and you don't want it to turn to mush.
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound fresh sweet Italian sausage (I use chicken, but feel free to use pork)
1/2 onion, diced
1 fat clove garlic, peeled and smashed
Handful basil leaves
4 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella
1 pound short pasta (I like penne or conchiglie)
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
Step 1Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium heavy saucepan until shimmering. Remove the sausage from the casings and add it to the pan, breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Brown the sausage well, stirring a couple times, about 5 minutes.
Step 2Create a hole in the middle of the pan and add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook until softened, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes and the basil and stir well to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until the sauce thickens and the flavors meld, at least 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary. Remove the basil leaves and set the sauce aside.
Step 3Heat the oven to 500 °F and butter a 2-quart baking dish. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Step 4In a mixing bowl, combine the sausage sauce with the rest of the ingredients, except the pasta and butter. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir well.
Step 5Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook for 4 minutes. Drain well and add to the mixing bowl, tossing gently to combine everything.
Step 6Spread the pasta evenly into the baking dish. Dot evenly with the butter, and bake until bubbly and brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool for a few minutes before serving.