pasta al forno

From Lauren C. Enea of the law firm Enea, Scanlan & Sirignano, LLP 

“When in Sicily, this dish may be a weekly occurrence, but for my family, it is served only at the holidays – more specifically, Christmas dinner. It is something I look forward to every year. My grandma always told me the circular pasta was representative of Christmas wreaths and the peas helped provide the red and green, representative of Christmas. Enjoy!”

Ingredients:

– 1½ lb. Anelletti pasta (ring shaped)
cooked al’dente, cooled and set aside.
– 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage with fennel
– 1 lb. meatloaf mix: ground beef/lamb/veal
– 2/3 cup grated or finely chopped onion
– 2/3 cup grated or finely chopped carrots
– 2/3 cup grated or finely chopped celery
– 1 Tbsp chopped garlic
– 2 12 oz. cans San Marzano tomato puree
– 2 6 oz. cans tomato paste
– 3 Tbsp olive oil (or more as needed)
– 1 Tbsp dry basil
– 1 Tbsp dry parsley
– 1/2 tspn salt (or to taste)
– 1/2 tspn pepper (or to taste)
– 1 cup grated Parmesean or Pecorino Romano cheese
– 2½ cups grated Mozzarella cheese
– 1/2 cup sweet sangria wine
– 1½ cups frozen peas
Garnish: fresh basil

Directions:

In a large sauce pot, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent and lightly caramelized. Add garlic to onions and continue to sauté. After garlic and onions are translucent and lightly caramelized, add carrots. Lower heat and cover pot to allow steam to soften carrots and cook for about two to four minutes. Then add celery and continue to “steam” cook until all vegetables are softened. Add ground beef mixture and sausage and cook until no longer pink.

Once meat is cooked (but not browned), add the sangria and continue to cook until it’s evaporated. Add the tomato paste and mix into meat and vegetables. Now add the tomato puree. Fill one empty tomato puree can two-thirds with water and add to sauce mixture.

Add in basil, parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Allow sauce to cook for two to three hours. Once sauce is ready, add in frozen peas and turn off heat. Continue to stir regularly and let sauce cool.

Once sauce is cooled and pasta is cooked, heat oven to 375°F. Mix pasta with enough sauce to lightly coat it. Pour layer of sauce into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish (or larger pan for fewer layers). Place layer of pasta into baking dish. Pour layer of sauce into baking dish. Place layer of Mozzarella into baking dish with sprinkle of grated Parmesan or Romano. Continue layering until baking dish is full.

Finish top layer with a layer of sauce and Mozzarella cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and cook for 45 minutes. Remove foil and let top cook until cheese is lightly browned. Garnish with fresh basil and serve.

NOTE: For a more cheesy taste, add a combination of Ricotta cheese, egg and parsley between layers with the Mozzarella cheese.

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