Baked rigatoni is a fast comfort food that is sure to please everyone at your table.
One of my strategies for having a home-cooked meal every night is to use my freezer -- and this dish is a perfect example of what I refer to as a "freezer go-to."
Making double and even triple batches of dishes that freeze well is a habit that will be a lifesaver on busy nights.
You can't freeze this dish whole, but you can make an extra batch of the sauce and prepare extra meatballs to store in your freezer. Then all you will need to do is boil the pasta, toss the ingredients together, and bake.
In addition to serving this dish as a simple family meal, it is also one of my favorite dishes for entertaining. All you need is a salad to round out the meal and dinner is served.
Jennifer Chandler is the author of "Simply Salads" (Thomas Nelson, $24.99) and "Simply Suppers: Easy Comfort Food Your Whole Family Will Love" (Thomas Nelson, $24.99). She is the national spokeswoman for French's Mustards and French's French Fried Onions. She lives in East Memphis with her husband and two daughters.
Baked Rigatoni with Sausage Meatballs and Spinach
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion (1 small onion)
1/4 cup vodka
1 can (16-oz.) tomato sauce
1 can (28-oz.) whole tomatoes with juice
11/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. sweet Italian sausage, casing removed and sliced 1/4 -inch thick
1 box (1 lb./16-oz.) rigatoni, cooked per package directions
1 cup fresh baby spinach, coarsely chopped
4 oz. Fontina cheese, cut into 1/2 -inch cubes
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the oil until a few droplets of water sizzle when carefully sprinkled in the pan. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the vodka and cook until the liquid has almost evaporated, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, tomatoes, cream, oregano and thyme. Break up the tomatoes with a fork or spoon. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until thickened, about 30 minutes.
While the sauce is cooking, roll the sausage meat into 1-inch balls. In another large skillet over medium-high heat, sauté the sausage meatballs until well browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the meatballs to the sauce and cook until they are no longer pink in the middle.
In a large mixing bowl combine the pasta, tomato sauce and spinach leaves. Toss until well combined.
Transfer the mixture to a 9- x 13-inch casserole dish and top with the cheese. Bake until the mixture is slightly browned and bubbling, about 30 minutes.
-- Source: Simply Suppers (Thomas Nelson, Spring 2012) by Jennifer Chandler
Time saver: When time is short, you can use a jarred vodka tomato sauce from the supermarket.
Back to the basics: If you have picky eaters in your house who do not eat anything green, omit the spinach or add it to just half of the dish.