A base of roasted red pepper cream sauce swaths pre-cooked, medium-sized pasta shells. The original recipe—from Joy of Cooking: All about Pasta & Noodles—calls for Fontina and pecorino; I kept the former, but swapped in shredded, aged Asiago for the latter. I like the sauce smooth and silky, so I puréed the roasted pepper mixture before preparing the sauce. Then, rather than use full-on heavy cream, I've split the ratio in half, replacing some with half and half to lighten the dish. Italian sausage, garlic, and onions, boost the sauce with extra flavor.
Why this recipe works:
- The rich sauce features Fontina and aged Asiago cheeses, respectively, for creaminess and nuttiness.
- Roasted red peppers lend a pretty pink hue and sweetness to the dish.
- Browned, crumbled Italian sausage offers additional substance to the baked pasta.
- 5 medium red peppers
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound hot or sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1/2 cup puréed, canned tomatoes
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup half and half
- 2 1/2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
- 3/4 cup shredded Fontina cheese
- 1/2 cup finely shredded, aged Asiago cheese, plus additional for garnishing
- 1 (16-ounce) package medium-size shells, cooked al dente in salted water, drained and rinsed under cold running water
- Kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 500°F.
Place the whole peppers on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Transfer to the oven to cook, turning every 10 minutes, until the skins are wrinkled and the peppers are charred, about 35 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately gather up the foil to seal into a pouch around the peppers. Let rest for 30 minutes. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, cut in half and remove and discard stems and seeds. Removed charred peels and discard. Puree roasted peppers in a blender or food processor until smooth and reserve.
Reduce oven temperature to 450°F.
Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. When oil is shimmering, add Italian sausage and brown, breaking into small bits using a spoon. When sausage is nearly done cooking, add onions and garlic and reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until vegetables start to soften and get translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes, heavy cream, half and half, and reserved pepper puree. Raise heat slightly and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 10 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Add ricotta, Fontina, Asiago, and cooked pasta. Toss to combine. Season to taste with salt.
Transfer pasta to a 9- by 13-inch baking pan or casserole dish with high sides. Dot with butter and place in oven to cook until brown and bubbly, about 25 minutes.
Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving with additional shredded Asiago cheese.