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Baked Rigatoni with Fennel, Sausage and Peperonata

Golden brown and bubbling, this comforting dish is welcome at the table any time of year. Sweet Italian sausage, colorful bell peppers and fragrant fennel add heft to this baked pasta. A touch of cream finishes the dish and rounds out the tangy tomato sauce.

Ingredients:

  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 lb. (500 g) rigatoni
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 lb. (350 g) sweet Italian sausage, casings removed and
      meat crumbled
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into matchsticks
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into matchsticks
  • 1 orange bell pepper, seeded and cut into matchsticks
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) prepared tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 fl. oz./375 ml) heavy cream
  • 2 cups (8 oz./250 g) shredded fontina cheese
  • 1/4 cup (1 oz./30 g) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 425°F (220°C). Lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch (24-by-33-cm) baking dish.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, 7 to 8 minutes, or according to the package instructions. Drain and place in a large bowl.

Remove and discard the stalks and core from the fennel bulb and dice the bulb. In a fry pan over medium heat, warm 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the fennel and cook, stirring, until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add to the bowl with the pasta.

Add the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil to the pan along with the bell peppers and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bell peppers are tender with a bit of a bite, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar and vinegar and cook until the vinegar has reduced to a syrup, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and cream and cook, stirring, until lightly thickened, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the pasta, add the fontina and stir well.

Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared dish and top with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake until the top is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling around the sides, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve directly from the dish. Serves 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma One Pot of the Day, by Kate McMillan (Weldon Owen, 2012).