Baked Penne with Good Italian Sausage
1 lb sweet and hot Italian sausages, casings removed
12 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese (about 1½ cups)
4 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil, divided
salt and ground black pepper
12 ounces fresh whole milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 3 cups
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 2 cups)
1½ lbs ziti or other short, tubular pasta
4½ cups Marinara Sauce or jarred tomato sauce
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves (for serving)
1. Bring 6 quarts of water to boil in a large pot over high heat.
2. Meanwhile, cook sausage in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until the sausage loses its raw color, about 5 minutes. Drain the sausage on a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.
3. Mix ricotta cheese, 2 Tbs. of the olive oil, ½ tsp. salt, and ½ tsp. pepper together; set aside. In a separate bowl, toss the mozzarella and Parmesan together until combined; set aside.
4. Add 1½ Tbs. salt and the pasta to the boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Reserve 1½ cups of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta. Return the drained pasta to the pot and stir in the marinara sauce, sausage, remaining 2 Tbs. oil and reserved pasta cooking water.
5. Pour half of the sauced pasta into a 13×9-inch baking dish. Drop large spoonfuls of the ricotta mixture evenly over the pasta, then pour the remaining sauced pasta over the ricotta layer. Sprinkle the top of the penne evenly with the mozzarella mixture.
6. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400°F. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil that has been sprayed with vegetable oil spray (or use nonstick foil). Bake until the sauce bubbled lightly around the edges, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until pasta is completely heated through, 25 to 30 minutes longer. Sprinkle with basil before serving.