Friday, January 14, 2011

Sausage and Mushroom Whole-Wheat Penne Gratin

I feel like my posts have been getting awfully healthy lately so to prove I’m not turning into a goody two-shoes, here you go:  a recipe made with sausage, mozzarella, parmesan, and heavy cream.  How’s that for decadent ingredients?  But then again, maybe I am a goody two-shoes because I swapped out the semolina pasta for whole-wheat and added arugula to give it a little more nutrition and a bit of color (once a food stylist, always a food stylist…).  I have to say, the extra calories were well worth it – this pasta was de-lish!  Really, really tasty and perfect for the kind of weather we have been experiencing in the Northeast, i.e. cold and snowy.

Sausage and Mushroom Penne Gratin
Adapted from Gourmet

Whole-wheat pasta is gaining in popularity but the problem remains that an awful lot of what’s out there is just that – awful.  I know this because I feel like I’ve bought and tasted each and every bland, heavy one!  After reading Melissa Clark’s piece on whole-wheat pasta in the Times, I took her advice and tried Bionaturae, an organic line of pastas made in Italy and available at my local grocery store.

Their penne was just as she described - warm and nutty.  When whole-wheat pasta is good it’s perfect in a stick-to-your-ribs dish such as this one - hearty enough to stand up to the other ingredients and rich without weighing it down. 

As a Flying Pigs Farm Camp alumna I’m partial to their heritage pork products.  There’s something about seeing first hand how a farmer raises their livestock and what breeds they choose and why that creates a loyalty that is tough to break.  I headed to their stand at Union Square for hot sausage but sweet sausage is fine in this recipe as well; it’s simply a matter of preference.

The North Fork’s Satur Farms continues to amaze me with the quality of their greens.  When I saw this box of wild arugula, which was grown on their farmland in Florida (see here for more back story), I couldn’t believe how perky and pristine the leaves looked.  Wild arugula is the original variety of arugula grown in Europe for generations.  No doubt the leaves in my box came from seeds found on one of Eberhard Muller and Paulette Satur’s European buying trips.  Wild arugula may look petite and refined but its peppery taste really packs a delightful punch.  
If there were any doubts about my devotion to Milk Thistle Farm Jersey cow dairy products, this bottle of heavy cream sealed the deal.  Just look at what I found when I opened their bottle of heavy cream.

Because there were several inches of thick cream on top, shaking the bottle wouldn’t do; I had to stir the cream before I could pour it out.  It was heaven.  Jersey cows rule – or at least their milk does!

1 pound dried whole-wheat pasta
1 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed if using links
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
4 cups arugula or spinach
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
8 ounces grated whole-milk mozzarella, divided

Cook penne in pot of boiling salted water until al dente.  Reserve ½ cup pasta-cooking water, drain pasta and set aside.    
Preheat broiler with rack positioned 3 – 4 inches from heat. 
Meanwhile, in a 12-inch sauté pan, sauté sausage in 1 tablespoon olive oil over high heat until no longer pink, stirring occasionally and breaking up any large pieces. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving fat in pan.

Add remaining tablespoon of oil to pan, along with mushrooms and garlic and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are golden, about 3 minutes.  Add arugula to pan, stirring until wilted, about 1 minute more.

Return sausage to pan along with cream, reserved ½ cup cooking water, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ fresh black pepper and boil over high heat, stirring once or twice, until thickened, about 4 minutes.  Stir in pasta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, ½ cup mozzarella, and salt to taste.  Transfer pasta mixture into 3-quart baking dish and top evenly with remaining mozzarella. 
Broil until golden brown in spots, 4 – 5 minutes.
Serves 4 – 6 people

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