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Creamy Ricotta and Sausage Baked Penne by Amity

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. hot or sweet Italian fennel sausage, casings removed
1 (28-ounce) can tomato puree
1 1/2 c. water
1 1/4 tsp sugar
2 bay leaves (may be omitted)
1/4 tsp ground fennel
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb. penne
3 c. ricotta
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 c. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 400°.  Heat 1 Tbsp. of olive oil in a large sauce pan. Add the minced garlic and cook over moderate heat, stir until lightly brown, about 15-30 seconds. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat, until browned, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato puree, water, sugar, bay leafs and fennel. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat until thickened, about 30 minutes. Don’t forget to discard the bay leaves.
 While cooking the sauce, go ahead and boil the penne in a large pot of water until al dente. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
 Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the meat sauce. Transfer the remaining sauce to the pot with the pasta. Toss to combine.
 Spoon the pasta into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Pour the reserved meat sauce over the pasta and dollop large spoonfuls of the ricotta on top. Gently fold some of the ricotta into the pasta; but don’t it in too much!!!  Ideally, you should have pockets of ricotta. Scatter the mozzarella on top and sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Bake the pasta in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes, or until bubbling and golden on top. Let rest for 20 minutes before serving.

Freezer Meal Instructions:
Prepare the recipe above as directed without baking.  Cover with foil, and freeze. When ready to serve, thaw overnight and bake the pasta in a 400 degree preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until bubbling and golden on top. Let rest for 20 minutes.  This is really yummy served with warm rolls and steamed brocolli or a green salad.

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