Winter in Pittsburgh. Temps are in the 50's and 60's one day, the teens the next. I don't know about you, but my internal appropriate-recipe-for-the-weather indicator has been swinging back and forth like some kind of crazed pendulum.
My kitchen is as likely to see a fresh off the grill sizzling chicken breast atop a crisp, green salad as it is a pot of stew or chili simmering on the stove. As a result, I'm behind on making my favorite cold weather recipes, like my family's favorite macaroni and cheese with ground beef and tomatoes. I'd bet this old fashioned, homey casserole is one of your family's favorites, too.
My mom used to make the dish with elbow macaroni, browned ground beef, onion, green pepper, cubes of cheddar (or even Velveeta!) and a can of tomato soup. Nope, she used no seasoning or garlic at all except for salt and (maybe) pepper.
My version, many years later, ditched the soup for canned tomatoes, added fresh spinach (to pack more nutrition and the kids never knew there was spinach hidden in there), sometimes I used feta, sometimes mozzarella, sometimes mushrooms made it in, and always garlic. The recipe has always been changeable, but still maintained the basic tomatoes, ground beef, cheese and macaroni base. As does this twist.
As always with this casserole, a visual sweep of what's on hand is the first step. At first glance, the fridge revealed leftover cooked hot sausage links from last night's dinner and several slices of some good Strip District Parma Sausage Salami Rustico. That would be waaaaay better than plain old hamburger! Looking further down, I discovered my own home-smoked hot pepper cheese and even a little home-smoked mozz! The pantry, as always, contained cans of San Marzano tomatoes thanks to Penn Mac in the Strip. The Strip District Italian Deli Pasta Bake came into being.
Maybe there IS a benefit to this oddball winter. A warm and sunny day is perfect for strolling the Strip picking up components for a comforting casserole to make when the temperature inevitably dips back into the chill zone. Maybe this IS the perfect winter weather after all.
Pittsburgh Strip District Italian Deli Pasta Bake
- 4 C cooked pasta - al dente, of course - I used gluten free penne
- 2 links cooked hot Italian sausage, sliced into rounds
- 1/2 C pre-sliced salami, cut into ribbons - I used Parma Sausage Salami Rustico, use whatever you have on hand...pepperoni works really well, too!
- 1 T olive oil
- 1 medium onion, medium dice
- 2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 1/2 C real San Marzano tomatoes, don't drain off the liquid, use it all!
- 1 T dried oregano
- 1 t dried basil
- 1 t Jane's Crazy salt or kosher salt
- 2 T tomato paste - buy the tube so you don't waste the rest of a small can
- 1/2 lb diced smoked hot pepper cheese (or use your own favorite - cheddar, smoked cheddar, hot pepper cheese that hasn't been smoked)
- 1/2 C smoked mozzarella or smoked provolone for the top, shredded
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a shallow casserole dish with olive oil and set aside.
In a nonstick saute pan over medium heat, warm the cooked sausage slices and salami until both release their fats and the salami separates and no longer sticks together. Remove to a plate. In the same pan, add the olive oil and then the onion and garlic. Cook until soft, but not browned.
Stir in the tomatoes, oregano, basil, Jane's Crazy Salt and tomato paste. Combine well, then add the sausage and salami back to the pan. Combine all thoroughly.
In a large mixing bowl, add the cooked pasta and the tomato mixture, stir well. Add the diced cheese and mix gently again until everything is evenly distributed throughout. Pour into the prepared casserole dish, top with shredded cheese and bake 25-35 minutes.
Add a green salad and it's dinner, folks!
NOTE: If you like your version less spicy, use cheddar instead of hot pepper cheese and sweet Italian sausage in place of the hot version. Like it spicier? Top the casserole with pickled hot peppers after it comes out of the oven for a real Italian deli touch!