3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 pound hot or sweet Italian fennel sausage, casings removed
1 28-ounce can tomato puree
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp ground fennel
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound penne
3 cups Creamy Ricotta
1/2 lb fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Preheat the oven to 400. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat, until browned, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato puree, water, sugar, bay leaf and fennel. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat until thickened, about 30 minutes. Remove the garlic, mash it to a paste and stir back into the sauce; discard the bay leaf.
Meanwhile, cook the penne in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Stir in the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil. Using a slotted spoon, add the cooked sausage to the pasta, then add 1 cup of the tomato sauce and toss to coat the penne.
Spoon the pasta in a 9″x13″ baking dish. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the pasta and dollop large spoonfuls of the Creamy Ricotta on top. Gently fold some of the ricotta into the pasta – don’t over mix, you should have pockets of ricotta. Scatter the mozzarella on top and sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake the pasta for about 45 minutes, or until bubbling and golden on top. Let rest for 20 minutes before serving.
Make Ahead – The baked penne can be refrigerated, covered, overnight. Rewarm before serving.
Contributed by Maria Helm Sinskey to Food & Wine