As the temperatures decrease and Autumn sets in, tummies start to demand comfort food and why shouldn't they? Anything that's warm, gooey and delicious is welcome at my table this time of year and my philosophy tends to be the more the merrier when it comes to dinner guests. That's why I love this dish. It's huge and will feed an army - by that I mean I can stretch this to feed 8 or 10 people if I serve garlic bread, a salad or other side dishes on the side, but it comfortably feeds 6 hungry people. No matter how many you're feeding, it's a great dish that's hot, cheesy and warming, perfect for this time of year when we can hide those few extra pounds underneath chunky sweaters and really indulge!
I've specified fresh bread crumbs here because they really do make a difference, but if you don't have any on-hand and don't fancy making them, you can use store bought bread crumbs as well. If you can though, get into the habit of throwing stale pieces of baguette or fresh bread (not the sliced white sandwich stuff, but real bread) into the food processor to grind up and store them in the freezer because fresh bread crumbs are always delicious in a dish like this!
6 tablespoons regular olive oil
1 small onion, quartered
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 4 pieces
1 stalk celery, cut into 4 pieces
3 cloves garlic, peeled
500g Italian sauces, casings removed
150ml red wine
Chopped fresh oregano, about 2 teaspoons
1/4 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 680g bottle of passata
500g dried tortiglioni
200g taleggio cheese, cubed
220g mozzarella, cubed
100g grated parmesan cheese
Fresh breadcrumbs (about 1 cup)
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and prepare a large, oven safe casserole or Dutch oven (preferably one with a lid) by greasing it with non-stick cooking spray or a dab of regular olive oil. Boil a large stock pot of salted water with a drop of olive oil and cook the pasta according to the package directions, removing from the heat about a minute or two before it's done as the pasta will continue to cook while in the oven. Strain the pasta, reserving a cup of the starchy cooking liquid and set aside with the lid on the pot to keep warm.
2. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic to a food processor and pulse until it turns into a fine mince that's nearly a mush. If you don't have access to a food processor, that's okay - just mince these vegetables and garlic as finely as possible with a knife.
3. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-low heat and add the veggie mince. Sauté for about 5 to 7 minutes until tender and beginning to color. With a rubber spatula, scrape all of the veggies out into a bowl and set aside.
4. In the same pan, add another 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the sausage meat. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until browned, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon.
5. Pour the red wine over the meat and increase the heat so it boils. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes or until the wine reduces significantly before adding the chili flakes, cooked veggie mince, salt, a few grinds of pepper, fresh oregano and passata. Simmer for another 5 - 10 minutes over low heat.
6. While the sauce is cooking, get back to the pasta. Pour the pasta into the casserole or dutch oven. Add the ricotta and taleggio cheeses and stir to coat. If it doesn't coat well, pour in a splash of pasta cooking water, about a tablespoon at a time until it's just moist enough for the cheese to coat all of the pasta. Put the lid on the casserole if you have one to keep it warm.
7. When the sausage & wine mixture is ready, pour it into the casserole with the pasta and add the mozzarella cheese. Toss to mix well and pop the lid back on.
8. In a non-stick frying pan, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Toss in about a cup of fresh breadcrumbs and stir to coat in the oil. Continue to stir and cook until the breadcrumbs start to color a little, taking care not to burn them. If they are too dry, add more olive oil about a tablespoon at a time - they should resemble anything from warm, hot sand to croutons, depending on the type and size of breadcrumbs you're using.
9. Sprinkle the pasta mixture with parmesan cheese and finish by layering the toasted breadcrumbs on top. Bake in the oven uncovered for about 30 minutes or until gold & crispy on top and piping hot. Serve on warmed plates.