Rigatoni with Sausage, Fennel and Ricotta

SNOW DAY!!!! I am currently sitting in my cozy living room drinking a giant cup of tea while the winds of Winter Storm Stella (aka #blizzard2017) howl outside. Knowing that we would be home from work today, Matt and I decided in advance that we’d make a big dinner last night that could serve double-duty as an excellent lunch after shoveling today. We settled on a riff of Ina Garten’s Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel, a warm, stick-to-your-ribs pasta dish with a creamy, rich sauce.

Our riff originates from the first time we made this: we didn’t have the heavy cream that Ina called for but we DID have ricotta cheese so we subbed that in. The ricotta melted into the sausage and pasta and tasted amazing. So good, in fact, that we never even considered going back to heavy cream for last night’s meal.

A note about the pasta for this dish… we made it ourselves!! Matt and I got a pasta machine last winter and we make fresh pasta all the time. Like, multiple times a week. Good thing I’m a runner and need my carbs!!! Homemade pasta tastes fresher and has a chewier, more complex texture than the boxed stuff. For our pasta we combine semolina flour, AP flour, eggs, salt and water and the Philips machine does the rest. It’s really crazy to watch it pump fresh pasta right out the front of the machine. I really should have taken a video but here are some photos. I never knew fresh pasta could be so easy to make!

Rigatoni with Sausage, Fennel and Ricotta
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Cooking for Jeffrey; serves 4

Ingredients
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Fennel Bulb, chopped (about 3 cups)
1 Yellow Onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 lb. Italian Sausage, casings removed
2-3 cloves Garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon Whole Fennel Seeds, crushed or ground in spice grinder
1/2 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons Salt, divided
1 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 cup dry White Wine
1 cup Part-Skim Ricotta Cheese*
2/3 cup Half and Half
2 tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 lb. Pasta
1/2 cup chopped Parsley
1 cup freshly ground Parmesan Cheese
*To stick to Ina’s original recipe, substitute 1 cup heavy cream for the ricotta.

Directions
Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the fennel and onion and saute, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes or until soft. Add the sausage, crumble, and cook for 7 to 8 minutes or until browned. Add the garlic, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt, and black pepper and stir for 1 minute. Stir in the wine and bring mixture to a boil, then add the ricotta, half and half and tomato paste and stir well.  Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer sauce for 20 minutes.

Cook pasta according to package instructions and drain. (Or go all out and make fresh pasta!) When the sauce has finished simmering, add cooked pasta to sauce and stir well to coat the pasta evenly. Cook the mixture over low heat for 5 minutes then, off heat, stir in the parsley and Parmesan, reserving some Parm as a garnish if desired. Serve immediately and enjoy!

…and, just for fun, here are a few more photos to celebrate the snow day. 😀

Ricotta Pizza with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers

I’ve posted more than a few pizza recipes on my blog, but I’m of the opinion that there can never be too much pizza (especially homemade pizza!!) so I am adding to my pizza repertoire with this delicious white pie that Matt and I made last week.  Look at this feast… ricotta, spinach and roasted red peppers covered in mozzarella cheese.  I wish I was eating this right now!!

Ricotta Pizza with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers

As you’ll see in the instructions below, I find it really challenging to transfer an uncooked pizza with full toppings from the peel to the stone, so my new tactic is to transfer the dough onto the stone in the oven while it’s still “naked” and then add all of the toppings while it’s in the oven.  Maybe not the most efficient use of electricity, but this method ensures that my pizzas end up (mostly) symmetrical without half of the cheese and toppings sliding onto the stone or, worse, the bottom of my oven during the raw dough transfer process.  Works for me!  🙂

Ricotta Pizza with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers 2

Ricotta Pizza with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers

You will need…
1 Red Bell Pepper
2 cloves Garlic, pressed through a garlic press
1/2 Yellow Onion, halved and sliced into very thin rounds
1/2 cup Frozen Chopped Spinach (or 2 cups fresh spinach steamed and chopped with excess water squeezed out)
approx. 2 cups shredded Mozzarella Cheese
approx. 3/4 cup Ricotta Cheese
Semolina Flour
1 package raw Pizza Dough
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Directions:
Start by roasting the red bell pepper.  There are several ways to roast a pepper, but for this particular pizza Matt sliced the pepper into thirds, removed the seeds and ribs, and placed the pepper pieces on a baking sheet in a preheated 400° oven until the skin was wrinkled and starting to blacken.  Then he peeled off the skin, sliced the peppers into 1/2″ strips, and set the roasted peppers aside until it was time to put them on the pizza.

Preheat the oven (with pizza stone inside) to 425°F.  Since I’m incapable of transferring a fully topped, raw pizza from the peel to the stone I put the naked dough on the stone and quickly add all of the toppings once it’s already in the oven.  To avoid wasting too much heat and energy during this process, I prep all of the toppings in advance and set them next to the oven.  With this in mind, arrange the roasted red peppers, minced garlic, chopped spinach and sliced onions on a plate and make sure that the mozzarella and ricotta are open and ready to go.

Next, prep the pizza dough.  Again, there are many ways to do this, but for this pizza I sprinkled a few tablespoons of semolina flour on a pizza peel and stretched the fresh ball of dough into a 15″ diameter circle.  Carefully transfer the dough onto the preheated pizza stone and use your fingers to quickly spread the minced garlic over the top of the dough, leaving a 1-2″ margin on the edges for the crust.  Close the oven.

Working in quick intervals, open the oven, slide the pizza stone rack out slightly, and start adding your toppings and cheese.  Start with the onions along with a thin layer of mozzarella and close the oven.  After few minutes, add the spinach and 8-9 generous spoonfuls of ricotta.  After another 1-2 minutes spread on the roasted red peppers and top with the remaining mozzarella.  Once all of the toppings have been added allow the pizza to cook for another few minutes until the crust is fully cooked and the cheese is just starting to turn golden brown.

Use a pizza peel to remove the cooked pizza from the oven (working with a cooked pizza is so much easier than raw dough!!) and season with salt and pepper.  Cut the pizza into 6-8 slices and enjoy!

Ricotta Pizza with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers 3

White Pizza with Sausage, Spinach and Ricotta

Crumbled Sausage, Spinach and Ricotta Cheese… yes! When Matt suggested that we try these toppings on our latest batch of Trader Joe’s pizza crust I enthusiastically agreed and, after enjoying the end result last night, I don’t know why we never tried this delicious combination before!

White Pizza with Sausage, Spinach and Ricotta_c

For Christmas Matt gave me My Pizza by Jim Lahey and, although I haven’t actually made any of the recipes yet (I’m holding out for a pizza stone and peel first!), the cooking method that we used for this recipe was definitely inspired by the book. I usually cook pizza at 425°F but, after reading Jim Lahey’s chapter on cooking dough, we decided to try something radically different and instead broiled the pizzas in a preheated 500°F oven. The resulting pies had a whole new level of caramelization and wonderful crispiness that I’ve never before experienced in a home-cooked pizza. Yum!

White Pizza with Sausage, Spinach and Ricotta

You will need…
2 Sweet Italian Sausages
Olive Oil
2-3 cloves Garlic, minced
2-3 handfuls Baby Spinach
1 package fresh Pizza Dough (as usual, I used Trader Joe’s dough)
Flour, for dusting pizza dough
Approx. 1/4 cup coarsely chopped Yellow Onion (optional)
12 oz. Ricotta Cheese
3-4 cups Shredded Part Skim Mozzarella Cheese
Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese

Ready to go in the oven!

Ready to go in the oven!

Directions:
Preheat your oven to 500°F. Remove the sausage from the casings and press into the bottom of a preheated skillet over medium-high heat. Allow it to cook undisturbed for 2-3 minutes and then use a metal spatula to stir the sausage and separate it into crumbled bits. When the sausage is completely cooked through (and, ideally, getting a little crispy on the edges!), transfer to a paper towel lined plate and set aside.

Return the skillet to the stove over medium heat and, if needed, add about a tablespoon of olive oil (there might already be enough fat in the skillet from the sausages). Add the minced garlic and allow it to cook in the oil until it is fragrant and just turning golden brown. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the spinach. Use tongs to toss and stir the spinach until it is wilted then remove from heat.

On a flour-dusted surface, halve the pizza dough and stretch each piece into a generous individual-sized pie. (Mine usually each end up being about 6” by 10” which fits well on my rectangular pan.) Place the crusts on a non-stick or lightly oiled pan (or use a pizza stone, if you have one!).

White Pizza broiling in the oven.

White Pizza broiling in the oven.

Spread about half of the ricotta cheese onto the two pizza crusts with the back of a spoon, leaving a 1” margin around the edges. Sprinkle on some chopped onions if you want (Matt didn’t want any but I tried them and they were great!) and top with the shredded Mozzarella. Next, evenly distribute the cooked sausage over the pizzas and add the wilted spinach and garlic. Drop the remaining ricotta onto the pizza in spoonfuls and finish off the pizzas with freshly grated Parmesan.

Just before putting the pizzas in the preheated oven, switch the oven to “Broil” and cook the pizzas on the top rack for approximately 10 minutes. Check on the pizzas frequently (it’s OK to open the door) to make sure that they are not burning. The pizzas are done when the cheese is turning golden brown and the crust is just starting to brown on the edges.

White Pizza with Sausage, Spinach and Ricotta 2_c