Sweet Sausage & Penne in a Vodka Cream Sauce

Sweet Italian sausage is tossed with penne pasta and tomato vodka cream sauce in a lovely comforting dish that we enjoy for both quiet evenings in as well as for entertaining.

Sweet Sausage & Penne in a Vodka Cream Sauce - Sweet Italian sausage is tossed with penne pasta and tomato vodka cream sauce in a lovely comforting dish that we enjoy for both quiet evenings in as well as for entertaining.

Now I know that I promised you a lunch recipe every Wednesday this month, but time got away from me over the past two weeks. Lots of travel and house guests this month has left me feeling like I’m constantly playing catch up. So instead of a classic lunch recipe, I’m taking a post that I had prepared for back to school and decided to share it with you a bit earlier.

But don’t worry – it you’re still wanting lunch inspiration, this recipe came from one of my favorite dishes to pick up and take for lunch during crazy weeks. There’s a chain grocery store in my area that is known for it’s prepared foods. They have a huge buffet that people love for lunches and dinners, and an amazing catering menu that I’ve ordered from for parties. But when my husband goes out of town? I head to the section with prepackaged, made-in-store entrees. While maybe not the cheapest around, they’re convenient and way healthier than the stuff I’d get at work. I load up my basket with enough premade entrees for lunch and dinner while my husband is out of town – those little dishes totally make the week alone with both kids so much easier and less stressful.

Sweet Sausage & Penne in a Vodka Cream Sauce - Sweet Italian sausage is tossed with penne pasta and tomato vodka cream sauce in a lovely comforting dish that we enjoy for both quiet evenings in as well as for entertaining.

One week earlier this summer, we hit on one of those crazy periods. I went looking for my favorite prepared meal – a pasta dish with sweet Italian sausage and a vodka cream sauce – but it wasn’t on the menu at the grocery store that week. I was so disappointed that I decided that it was time to recreate the dish myself. I don’t know why I waited so long. This dish turned out perfectly. It was fairly easy, came together in roughly 30 minutes (hello, weeknight dinner!), and was just as good – if not better – than the store’s version. I bumped up the amount of sausage by a little, both because we like the extra meat and because the package I purchased was a bit more. I also folded in extra mozzarella cheese to thicken the sauce a bit. All in all, it was a great meal, and I have a new dinner that I’ll be adding to my rotation. And knowing how easy it is, I’ll take the time and make this next time my hubby goes out of town, rather than buying the premade versions.

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Sweet Sausage & Penne in a Vodka Cream Sauce - Sweet Italian sausage is tossed with penne pasta and tomato vodka cream sauce in a lovely comforting dish that we enjoy for both quiet evenings in as well as for entertaining.

Sweet Sausage & Penne in a Vodka Cream Sauce

Sweet Italian sausage is tossed with penne pasta and tomato vodka cream sauce in a lovely comforting dish that we enjoy for both quiet evenings in as well as for entertaining.

Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Total Time 30 minutes
Author Liz

Ingredients

  • 1 - 1 1/3 lb. sweet Italian sausage
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 shallots minced
  • 3/4 c. vodka
  • 1 c. chicken stock
  • 1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 16 oz. pasta I use whole wheat penne
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 1/4 c. fresh basil about 20 leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella

Instructions

  1. In a large, heavy bottomed pot set over medium heat, saute sausage, breaking up into small pieces. When almost completely browned, add garlic and shallots, sauteing for another few minutes until sausage is browned completely and garlic and shallots have begun to soften.
  2. Slowly, add vodka, stirring and scraping bottom of the pan to get any extra bits up. Bring to a boil and simmer until reduced by half. Add chicken stock and crushed tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper (I used a large pinch of each). Stir, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, before lowering heat to keep warm.
  3. While sauce is simmering, preheat oven to broil and cook pasta according to package. Then drain.
  4. When pasta is almost ready, increase heat to low and stir in cream and basil. Add pasta. Fold in 1 c. mozzarella. Top pasta with remaining 1/2 c. pasta and broil for 5 minutes, until cheese is melted.
  5. Serve immediately, with fresh garlic bread and/or a side salad.

Recipe Notes:

  • I used my Le Creuset dutch oven (<- affiliate link) to make the sauce. Because it’s a heavy pot, it cooked up very quickly with minimal sticking, but you could also use a regular pot/pan.
  • Make Ahead: Do everything up through topping the pasta with mozzarella. Transfer to a large Pyrex or other fridge/oven safe dish. Then top with remaining 1/2 c. mozzarella, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. When ready to serve, cook in an oven at 375F, covered with foil, for 45-60 minutes. Remove foil in last 10 minutes of cooking, to melt the cheese.
  • Vodka Cream Sauce adapted from Rachel Ray.
Sweet Sausage & Penne in a Vodka Cream Sauce - Sweet Italian sausage is tossed with penne pasta and tomato vodka cream sauce in a lovely comforting dish that we enjoy for both quiet evenings in as well as for entertaining.

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Tortellini with Fresh Basil Pesto

Happy Sunday! I hope you are enjoying a long weekend celebrating our great country.

My family and I are thankfully having a mostly lazy weekend – play dates, baking, and chores, with a dinner with friends planned for the 4th. We’ve had a whirlwind could of weeks with me away for a week and some family in town. I’ve been enjoying playing catch up. Enjoying the relative quiet in the house. And enjoying taking a little bit of time to menu plan, blog plan, and vacation plan.

Tortellini with Fresh Basil Pesto

Store-bought ravioli or tortellini with homemade pesto from the freezer has become an easy weeknight staple in our house. It takes so little effort and time to make that we really have no excused for ordering out when I’ve got the pasta and pesto in the freezer. I stock up on homemade pesto when my herbs (or my mom’s herbs) are growing like crazy over the summer time. They’ve been planted for less than two months and they’ve already started to grow a bit wild. I’ve already have to trim them back several times, freezing sage leaves and making both cilantro and basil pesto.

Tortellini with Fresh Basil Pesto

By Books n’ Cooks

Serves 2 as a main dish, 3-4 as a side dish

Ingredients for the Tortellini:

  • 1-9 oz. package store-bought cheese tortellini
  • 1 c. fresh basil pesto (ingredients and instructions below)

Ingredients for the Basil Pesto: (makes 1 cup) 

  • 2 c. packed fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
  • ¼ c. pine nuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, skins removed
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • pinch of black pepper
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil, more if needed

Prepare tortellini according to package. While tortellini are cooking, make the pesto. (If tortellini are finished before pesto, drain, toss with a little bit of olive oil to avoid sticking, and cover to keep warm.)

Make the Pesto: Place all ingredients except olive oil in a food processor. Pulse until large chunks. With the food processor still running, slowly pour in olive oil. Turn off when thoroughly combined.

Toss tortellini and pesto, until tortellini are completely coated. You may not need the entire cup.

Freezing Pesto: Basil pesto freezes wonderfully and is one of my favorite things to stock up on over summer, for quick weeknight dinners throughout the year.

To freeze, transfer pesto to an airtight container (I use mason jars) and freeze until ready to use. Pesto may be defrosted in the fridge or for 30-60 seconds in the microwave (don’t forget to take off the metal lid and rim!)

Fresh Basil Pesto
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Beef & Sausage Lasagna

November was supposed to be a quiet month for me. October was crazy but November was completely open. It was supposed to be a chance for me to relax and recharge before the Christmas holiday season kicked into gear.

As hard as I tried to keep the month open, my plan didn’t really work out. I’m not even completely sure how the month got so busy, or what, exactly, we did. We had a houseguest for a couple days, that we didn’t previously plan, but I think that other than that, it was just very busy with some long days (including weekends) at work, a week of sick kiddos, and struggling to keep up with housework. As the month ended, I ended up feeling more exhausted than refreshed.

beef-sausage-lasaga

The crazy month is why this recipe has taken a bit longer than I wanted to post. This lasagna is a go-to recipe for me, particularly for cooler weather and large-scale entertaining. While it is a good bit of work (it probably takes an hour or so to put together), it has 3 qualities that make it a favorite.

1) It can be made in advance and refrigerated or frozen.
2) It makes a huge dish and can easily serve 8-12 people. Or, it makes a lot of leftovers for weekday lunches or busy weeks when leftovers are all that we have for dinner.
3) Everyone loves it.

Unlike a lot of other lasagnas, it’s light on the cheese and full of meat. Also a little different from other recipes, I added a few extra layers – for a total of 4 layers of noodles – as we like a nice, thick slice.

This recipe has been heavily adapted from my mom’s old Good Housekeeping cookbook, Step by Step.

Make Ahead: This recipe can be made in advance, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and frozen for at least a couple of months. Lasagna should be allowed to defrost completely (about 2 days in the fridge) before baking according the the instructions below. If lasagna isn’t completely thawed, keep covered and bake until lasagna is hot throughout, before removing foil and cooking uncovered for the last 15 minutes.

beef-sausage-lasaga

Beef & Sausage Lasagna

Makes one large (9×13) lasagna

Serves 10

Ingredients:

  • 1-16 oz. package lasagna noodles
  • 1/2 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1/2 lb. spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1/2 lb. mild Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 medium onion, small dice
  • 1 Tbs. minced or crushed garlic
  • 1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbs. Italian seasoning
  • 2 Tbs. dried basil
  • 1-15 oz. container part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 c. fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 c. (8 oz.) shredded part-skim mozzarella
  • 1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375F.

Make the Meat Sauce: In a large skillet over medium heat, brown ground beef and both sausages, using a wooden spoon to break up any large chunks. Add onion and garlic, and continue to cook until translucent. Discard any excess fat, and add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, kosher salt, sugar, Italian seasoning, and basil. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and lower heat, simmering for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook noodles according to package. When done, use tongs to remove noodles from water and lay noodles flat on a clean dishtowel on the counter. Allow to cool until you’re able to handle them with your hands.

Make the Ricotta Layer: In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, egg and parsley.

Assemble the Lasagna: On a clean countertop, line up meat sauce, lasagna noodles on the towel, ricotta, a small bowl filled with the shredded mozzarella, and a large (9×13 at least) baking dish. It will make assembly easier and cleaner if everything is in one single work area.

First, spread a couple of spoonfuls of the sauce (I like to avoid the meat chunks for the bottom later) across the bottom of the baking dish, so that lasagna noodles don’t stick. Next, add a layer of lasagna noodles, followed by one-third of the ricotta, about 1/2 c. of the mozzarella, and about a quarter of the meat sauce. Do this two more times, so that you have 3 complete layers.

Add the final layer of lasagna noodles. If you have extra ricotta, you can add it here. Otherwise, top with remaining meat sauce, remaining mozzarella, and the grated Parmesan cheese. Feel free to add a little extra of either or both cheeses, if lasagna is not sufficiently covered.

Bake in preheated oven covered with aluminum foil for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and cheese is melted and starting to brown. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Serve hot with a side salad and your favorite fresh bread or garlic bread.

beef-sausage-lasagna-from-books-n-cooks

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Pasta with Walnuts, Parsley & Parmesan

Attempting food photography with a little one. -Pasta with Walnuts, Parsley & Parmesan, on Books n' Cooks
Attempting food photography with a little one. -Pasta with Walnuts, Parsley & Parmesan, on Books n’ Cooks

My husband pretty much requires meat at dinner. Doesn’t matter if it’s red meat or chicken, but he’ll rarely feel full or satisfied without one or the other. Occasionally, I’ll test the waters with a veggie-based pasta or a seafood-based dish, but those options are rarely winners with him. This pasta dish is one of the few exceptions.

Whole wheat pasta makes this dish filling. Walnuts provide crunch; Parmesan provides some saltiness. And fresh parsley (or freeze-dried parsley in a pinch) is a burst of freshness. And I love that the ingredients are always in my pantry and the dish can be finished in roughly 20 minutes. Yes, this dish is definitely a winner.

The photo isn’t the prettiest – it came out darker than I had hoped, but I think the baby’s hand is a cute touch. 🙂

 

Pasta with Walnuts, Parsley & Parmesan

Adapted from The Food You Love by Ellie Krieger

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 c. walnuts, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1/2 c. fresh parsley, chopped (I’ve also used freeze-dried parsley if I don’t have any fresh parsley in the house)
  • 1/3 c . low-sodium chicken broth*
  • 1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 3/4 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
*Make it vegetarian by using vegetable stock. 

Bring a large pot to a boil over medium heat, to cook the pasta in. When boiling, add the pasta and cook until desired doneness (for my hubby us, cooked throughout instead of al dante). Drain and return pasta to the pot it was cooked in. Hopefully by the time it’s done, the next steps are  done and you’ll be ready to assemble the dish.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium-low heat, toast walnuts until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Move to a bowl and set aside. In the same skillet, saute garlic in olive oil until garlic is browned, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat (or if it’s going to be a little while until your pasta is done, reduce heat to lowest setting to keep oil warm).

Toss cooked pasta, chicken broth, garlic & olive oil, walnuts, parsley, and a little salt and pepper. Toss with 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese.

Portion out and top with remaining Parmesan.

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