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Italian Sausage and Pepper Macaroni & Cheese

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Makes 6-8 servings

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 pound hot fennel Italian sausage, removed from the casing 
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
1 pound lined penne
8 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
6 cups whole milk
4 cups (16 ounces) Italico cheese, grated
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
A few shakes of salt and black pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with butter or cooking spray.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm olive oil. Add onion and saute 3 minutes or until softened. Add sausage and cook for 8-10 minutes or until browned all over and no longer pink.  Add red bell pepper and cook 2 minutes until softened.

Cook pasta in salted water, about 2 minutes short of being fully cooked; it will finish cooking in the oven. Drain the cooked pasta, but do not rinse.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in flour. Gradually add milk, whisking continuously until it reaches a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes, or until thick and bubbly.

Add cooked sausage and pepper mixture, Italico cheese, cream sauce, crushed red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, basil and parsley. Stir well. Pour into prepared baking dish. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the cheese sauce is bubbling around the edges.

 

- Susan Russo

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