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. 😀

Snow Day!

Happy Thanksgiving eve!  It snowed in eastern Pennsylvania today.  The snow might have been less than ideal for people traveling along the I-95 corridor for the holiday, but Matt and I were off from work and had a blast playing with Piper in her first snowstorm.

Little Piper puppy in the snow

Piper took the snow in stride.  She spent the first several minutes trying to eat the mysterious white stuff, then joined Matt for a slippery game of fetch.  I snapped some photos as they played.

After our playtime in the snow we went inside for hot cocoa (for us) and nap time (for Pipe).  So far she’s been great about settling down for quiet snuggle time on the couch while we watch tv (or edit snow day photos).  I’ll have to take a photo of her actually sleeping someday (my mom still doesn’t believe that Piper EVER sits still!) but for now I’ll leave you with this gem.  I love this wacky puppy!

I'm Helping!!!

Cassoulet with Smoked Sausage and White Beans

How do you prepare for a snow day?  Do you rush to the supermarket for bread, milk and eggs?  Or maybe turn up the heat so the house feels warm and toasty when you come in from shoveling?  In our house we try to take advantage of being snowed in by planning a big, slow-cooked meal that we normally wouldn’t have time to put together on a regular weeknight.

Flashback to Thursday, February 13th… A huge storm was dumping more than a foot of snow on our already snow-covered region, the local kids were all enjoying yet another snow day, and our office was closed.  Knowing that we’d have lots of time to cook, Matt and I decided to try a new stew recipe… something that required a little prep up front and that would be guaranteed to fill the house with the delicious aroma of slow-cooking meat and herbs as it simmered in the crockpot all afternoon.  I found the perfect candidate on MyRecipes.com… smoked sausage cassoulet!

616 Cassoulet

Cassoulet is a classic french dish that features slow-cooked white beans and meat.  White traditional versions of cassoulet call for duck confit, our snow day version of cassoulet kept things simple.  All of the ingredients were readily available at our local grocery store (on the eve of a snow storm, no less!) and, after being sauteed and slow-cooked all afternoon, they came together to make a delightfully hearty stew with smoky kielbasa, richly flavored white beans, and pork that was so tender you could cut it with a spoon.  Top that off with some freshly grated parmesan and chopped parsley and we had the ultimate culinary reward for all of the shoveling we did on Thursday… and it was a LOT of shoveling: about 14 inches of heavy, wet snow!

February 13 Snow Collage

Cassoulet with Smoked Sausage, Pork and White Beans (adapted from MyRecipes.com; serves 5)

You will need…
2-3 slices Bacon, uncooked, cut into approx. 1″ x 1/2″ pieces
12 oz. Smoked Sausage,* halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4″ slices
2 cups Chopped Onion
1/2 teaspoon Dried Rosemary
1 teaspoon Dried Thyme
3 cloves Garlic, minced
2 – 14.5 oz. cans Diced Tomatoes, drained
1/2 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Salt
2 – 15 oz. cans Great Northern Beans, drained and divided
1 lb. Pork Tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 1/2″ cubes
Grated Parmesan Cheese, for garnish
Fresh Parsley, for garnish

*Choose a good quality smoked sausage as this will have a major impact on the overall flavor of the dish.  The first time we made this recipe we used Johnsonville Smoked Pork Kielbasa with great results.  The second time we also added in some spicy Andouille sausage (leftover from Jambalaya) and that added even more flavor.

621 Cassoulet

Directions:
Preheat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook the chopped bacon bits, stirring occasionally, until crispy.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked bacon to a bowl and set aside.  Add the smoked sausage to the bacon fat and saute until just starting to brown.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the sausage to another bowl and set aside.  Add the onion, rosemary, thyme and garlic to the pan and saute until soft, approximately 4-5 minutes.  Add the bacon, tomatoes, salt and pepper to the pan, stir well, then bring to a boil.  Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, place 1 can’s worth of drained Great Northern Beans in a large bowl and mash with a potato masher until chunky.  (I found that doing this in a 3 qt pot worked well since the bottom of the pot is flat.)  Add in the remaining can of beans along with the browned sausage and pork and stir well.

Assemble your cassoulet in layers in a crockpot.  First, spread half of the bean mixture on the bottom of the crockpot.  Then, in layers, add half the tomato mixture, the remaining bean mixtue, and the remaining tomato mixture.  Cover and cook on LOW for 5 1/2 hours.  Stir the cassoulet before serving and top each individual bowl with grated Parmesan and parsley.  Enjoy!

597 Cassoulet

Do you have any go-to recipes that you love to make on snow days?
Tell me about them in the comments section!  🙂

Snow Day!

It snowed again today!!  The snow started falling at 7:30AM and didn’t stop until another 3-4 inches were heaped atop the snow that we got on Sunday.  Yay snow!  Matt took a “snow day” (aka spent some quality time with his early Christmas present, an Xbox One) and I went into work for a few hours and enjoyed a productive morning in the nearly empty office.  Once the roads were plowed I came home to play with Bailey in the snow.  Did I mentioned that I LOVE snow??!!

Dashing through the snow!

Bailey loves the snow, too.  Here are some photos from this afternoon… see the one where I totally whacked her in the head with a giant snowball?  Oops!!

After playing with Bailey I shoveled the whole driveway… talk about a work out!  Now I just have to find the strength to get up off of this comfy couch and go run my daily mile(s) for the Runner’s World Holiday Streak.  Today will be day 163 of my streak, woohoo!

Did you have a snow day today?  How did you spend your day?