Spicy Italian sausage
Vine-ripened Italian tomatoes
Fresh mozzarella cheese
This trifecta is a sure thing … the planets are indeed perfectly aligned. Add the nurturing comfort of pasta and a healthy dose of nutritious spinach…
and one thing is certain …
All is well with the world
This recipe was developed in response to a recipe contest sponsored by Canadian Living Magazine many years ago (I didn’t win…). When I read the list of ingredients and the cooking challenge presented in this contest, my first thought was how much this reminded me of our family’s recipe for Slusho (see Tomato Beef Mac and Cheese). A change-up would definitely be required, but I knew I would hold on to the burgoo-effect. Changing up some of the ingredients alters the flavour dimension somewhat, but the high rating on the comfort scale is maintained. Further to this, if you follow the basic formula …meat, pasta, tomatoes, and cheese, you could substitute other types of ground meat, or different varieties of cheese.
A different type of pasta can also be selected, however, the choice of pasta is important. For this dish, I really appreciate orecchiette (Italian for ‘little ears’) because this pasta is small – it doesn’t overpower the dish – it allows the other ingredients to shine. Orecchiette is not a common pasta in many grocery stores and can sometimes be a challenge to find. In that case, just substitute any shell-type of pasta. The only stipulation would be that the pasta has a little ‘pocket’ in which the flavourful filling can find adequate lodging space.
Orecchiette alla Florentina
Prep Time: 45 minutes Baking Time: 35-40 minutes
Yield: 6-8 servings
½ pound (230 g) lean ground sirloin
½ pound (230 g) hot Italian sausage, casings removed
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon (15 mL) olive oil
1 large onion, medium-dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (156 mL/ 5.5 oz) tomato paste
12 ounces (3 cups / 330 g) dry orecchiette pasta
1 can (796 mL/28 fl oz) whole or diced San Marzano tomatoes, undrained
1 package (300 g/10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, unthawed
2 teaspoons (10 mL) Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon (1.5 mL) hot pepper flakes or 1 teaspoon (5 mL) chili paste
(sambal oelek), if desired
½ cup (125 mL / 2 ounces / 60 g) shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup (200 g / 250 mL) bocconcini (soft fresh cheese), cut into chunks
¼ cup (1 ounce / 20 g) grated or shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
Extra mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for topping
- In a large bowl, combine the ground sirloin and hot Italian sausage meat. Sprinkle mixture with a little salt and pepper and gently combine. Don’t over-mix.
- In a large Dutch oven or sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the beef-sausage mixture and cook, breaking it up into small pieces, until it loses its pink colour and starts to brown just a little – about 10-15 minutes.
- Add the onion and garlic and continue to cook until the vegetables are soft and fragrant (5 – 10 minutes)
- Lower the heat and stir in the tomato paste. Cook gently over low heat until the mixture has thickened and has started to caramelize – approximately 15 minutes.
- While the meat-tomato mixture is cooking, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until just barely al dente (8-10 minutes). Do not overcook. Drain well.
- Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Lightly oil a large shallow 9 x 12 baking dish; or use two 8 x 8 baking dishes.
- Add tomatoes and spinach to the meat mixture. Stir to combine and bring to a gentle simmer. SImmer gently until the spinach has thawed and has been incorporated into the sauce.
- Add salt and pepper, as well as some chili flakes or sambal oelek if more heat is desired.
- Fold in cooked and drained pasta. Fold in the mozzarella, bocconcini, and parmesan cheeses. Place into the prepared baking dish(es); cover tightly with foil.
- Bake at 350oF (1800C) for 35-40 minutes, or until bubbly. Remove from oven and sprinkle with extra grated mozzarella and parmigiano-reggiano cheese. Return it to the oven (uncovered) for an additional 5-10 minutes to let the cheeses melt.
- Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
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