In high school, Dimity and I used to walk out of our bedrooms in the morning often dressed in identical outfits. (We’re identical twins, and we’ve always strived to distinguish ourselves as individuals.) We’d have a screaming match until one of us recoiled back into our room with our tail between our legs, surrendering to change. For teenage girls, who put a lot of intention into their outfits, this was always a frustrating way to start the day. We eventually shook the grief around such petty matters, and embraced the fact that our minds think alike – very alike. Which is what happened on the night this casserole was born.
It was pouring rain at 9 p.m. when Bobby scooped me from the climbing gym after his capoeira class. Needless to say we were ravenous, and the rumored taco truck was a teasing ghost chase in the night. So we turned to a variation of Mamma’s recipe, a childhood staple on busy evenings. We weren’t the only ones scheming to doctor up a basic casserole – my twin sister Dimity and her partner, Nolan, were almost through a near-identical version of their own on the upper west side.
This recipe lends to mixing flavors and the lone remnants of your refrigerator and cabinet. It’s often inspired by others, and in this case transpired from twin brain to twin brain, and likely, my mother had a hand in spreading the message.
When I'm searching for a good sausage I like to talk to the butcher behind the meat counter or at my local butcher shop, The Piggery. They give me all sorts of insight as to the level of spice, the ingredients, food pairings and price. I like to use a spicy Italian sausage for this recipe, but German sausage and Andouille would also be magical.
- 2 boxes penne pasta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 Italian sausages
- 1 large garlic clove (or 2 small), minced
- 3 zucchini, cut into 1-inch long by 1/4-inch wide sticks
- 1/4 cup minced chives
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 + 1/4 cups fresh shredded mozzarella
- 1 tomato, sliced
- 1/2 cup fresh hand-torn basil
- Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a square or rectangular baking pan.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil, and salt it until it tastes like an accidental ocean gulp. Add the pasta and cook until al dente (slightly undercooked). When the pasta is cooked, reserve 1/4 cup of pasta water before draining.
- In a large pan, add the olive oil and heat over medium-low. Add the sausages and sear until all sides are browned. Remove the sausages from the pan and cut one through to check and see if it is done. If undercooked, keep searing in the pan for a couple more minutes. If cooked, allow to cool and then chop into cubes.
- Add a splash of pasta water to the pan and use a wooden spoon to rescue any pieces of sausage from the pan. Add the garlic and saute for about 1-2 minutes, until it begins to brown.
- Add the zucchini, a few pinches of the salt and a few turns of pepper, and saute until tender and golden around the edges.
- Add the pasta, chives, remaining salt and pepper, and the sausages to the pan and toss. Add a few tablespoons of pasta water and toss again. Toss in 1 cup of the mozzarella and the basil (saving about 1 tablespoon for garnish).
- Transfer the pasta to the baking pan. Spread the tomatoes and remaining mozzarella in an even layer on top.
- Bake for 15 minutes, until mozzarella is bubbling on top. Cool before serving.
Allergens: dairy, wheat