This baked penne recipe is entirely vegetarian, yet it’ll keep carnivores happy with its fennel-scented tomato sauce and meatless Italian sausage crumbles.
And it’s “baked penne” because I’ve never been able to replicate Italian restaurants’ baked ziti. I suspect their secret is oil and cheese in much more copious amounts than one can bear to consider under home kitchen conditions. Maybe it’s a hotter oven, or a shove under the broiler when it’s done. You know, if anybody knows the reason, inform me. I’m mostly pretty bumbling when it comes to reverse engineering.
But I’m zen about it, because the approximations to restaurant baked ziti are pretty good on their own. They might be missing the goat dandruff secret ingredient or whatever, but it’s hard to go wrong with pasta, mozzarella, a rich tomato sauce, mushrooms, and fake Italian sausage crumbles.
We don’t have ziti. We have penne. I’ve never seen a package of ziti. I suspect it doesn’t really exist.
While I was Googling to see if ziti pasta really existed (trust me: it doesn’t), I came across another baked ziti/penne recipe that used half provolone and added sour cream. Damn. Think I should try that next? I could make variations on this recipe forever.
I just wanted to show you some more mozzarella. Who doesn’t love cheese? The lactose-intolerant, that’s who. Ship them out onto ice floes.
There’s two ways to go about this dish. The time way and the dishes way. The time way, you cook the pasta al dente first, then drain it and use the same pot to sauté your celery and mushrooms, dump in (or make) the tomato sauce, and drop in the fake Italian sausage crumbles. The dishes way, you have two pots going and maybe even a sauté pan too, saving time but making more dishes.
So you got your pasta, your bulked-up sauce thanks to the fake sausage, and your grated cheese. Then you layer them in ze dish.
Repeat layering three times, and sprinkle parmesan on top, because who doesn’t want more cheese? I do not know why I’m affecting a French accent. This is Italian-themed food.
cheesy baked penne with fake italian sausage
I prefer to grate my own cheeses when possible. The coating on pre-shredded cheese seems to inhibit its melting properties. You’ll notice the difference in taste and gooeyness if you try grating your own. Meatless Italian sausage crumbles are found in 12-ounce packages in the freezer section. Morningstar Farms is one brand.
prep: 45 minutes
total time: 90 minutes
1-2 teaspoons olive oil (not extra-virgin)
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced or chopped into chunks
½ cup chopped celery
1 recipe i-can’t-believe-it’s-meatless tomato sauce or 1 (26 ounce) jar prepared pasta sauce
1 (12 ounce) package of frozen meatless Italian sausage crumbles
12 ounces whole wheat penne pasta, boiled al dente and drained (about 8 to 10 minutes)
12 ounces whole-milk or part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Heat olive oil in a 2-quart or larger pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms and celery and cook until mushrooms have released their juices, about 5 to 10 minutes (translation: until the mushrooms are cooked).
Add i-can’t-believe-it’s-meatless tomato sauce or the jar of prepared pasta sauce to the cooked celery and mushrooms. Add the meatless Italian sausage crumbles. Heat through, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
In a 3-quart baking dish, layer ⅓ of the penne, ⅓ of the sauce mixture, and ⅓ of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat layering two more times, and top with the grated Parmesan.
Bake for 45 minutes at 350°F, until cheese is lightly browned and bubbly.