Everything's better with sausage.
No, that's not a dirty pun. It's a quote from my former roommate, Sara. She was referencing one of the truths of the universe. A meal that includes sausage is a happy meal.
However, since I've been trying to eat more sustainably by cooking vegetarian at home, even turkey sausage has been sadly lacking from my diet. That's why I was psyched to discover the company Field Roast and their "grain meat" products.
Field Roast products are all the rage among hip greenies these days. I first read about Field Roast on Alicia Silverstone's lovely website, The Kind Life. They then showed up in my Sierra Club magazine. Saturday I found them at H.E.B. Central Market - the very same day my friend Reid also recommended them to me.
Seeing the Italian sausages, I got rid of any plans I had for dinner and decided to make some comfort food -- a yummy pasta bake.
Pasta bakes -- along with binder clips, sticky notes, and sushi -- are one of mankind's great triumphs. I say this as an auntie of a nephew who is extremely picky and does not want to eat anything healthy. You can save your comments about how to get a kid to eat -- my sister did all the right things. My nephew, H., never had much in the way of junk food for the first several years of his life. However, like many kids, he was won over by McDonald's, Capri-Suns, and the American school food system. Now, he doesn't want to eat anything his auntie cooks for him.
The only exception is a delicious, cheesy pasta bake. I've adapted a recipe that H. likes for vegetarians and anyone else who wants to try a meat-free meal that doesn't feel meat free.
Kid-Friendly Baked Pasta With "Sausage"
3 garlic cloves
2 scallions or a half onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
a bunch of mushrooms, chopped
1 28-oz. can of diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen organic diced tomatoes),
1 package (4 links) Field Roast sausages - Italian flavor, sliced on the diagonal (or other vegetarian Italian sausages. And of course, you could make the same recipe with meat sausages, though it wouldn't be as sustainable).
Salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, or spices you like
16-oz. trottole, gemelli, penne, ziti, or other fun pasta
1 c. part-skim ricotta
1/2 c. part-skim mozzarella, shredded
1/2 c. Parmesan, shredded
Step 1: Pre-heat the oven to 350. Prepare a 9x12x2 baking dish by greasing it up with butter or oil or whatever. Prepare a great big pan or Dutch oven the same way.
Step 2: Over medium-high heat, saute the garlic and onion in the great big pan. When those are starting to be translucent, add the red pepper and mushrooms. Saute for a few minutes, until the mushrooms are browning around the edges. Add the sausages, tomatoes, and spices to taste. Cover, lower heat, and simmer.
I can't believe it's not meat!
Step 3: While that's simmering, boil the pasta to package directions.
Step 4: When the pasta is done, drain and pour it into a giant bowl. It should be the biggest bowl in your kitchen. Then dump the sausage mixture and ricotta cheese into the bowl. Stir until everything is mixed together and the ricotta is melty.
Step 5: Pour the pasta mixture into the baking dish. Top with the mozzarella and Parmesan.
Step 6: Cover and bake for 40 minutes. Take the cover off and broil for 4 minutes, or until the cheese is brown. Let sit for a few minutes to cool. Then serve. Give the kids some grape juice in a wine glass so they can feel Italian. That's what a good auntie would do. Buon appetito!
Doesn't look pretty, but tastes yummy.
* Meatless Monday is a movement to increase awareness of sustainable, meat-free eating, by eating meatless meals on Mondays. So alliterative!
** Of course, your meal will be more sustainable the more organic and local choices you make in your ingredients.