When I start to feel that Fall nip in the air I tend to think casserole. There’s just something about taking a bunch of ingredients mixing them together, sprinkling them with cheese and baking them off until they’re golden brown and bubbly. That says Fall to me.
I’m fond of this particular casserole for a variety of reasons. It’s one that helps you empty out the refrigerator, it’s easy to prepare and it also makes great leftovers. It started out with a package of cheese tortellini that I needed to use and then I morphed it into a dish that added a sautéed vegetable trinity, mushrooms, Italian sausage and a variety of cheeses. Needless to say that for a refrigerator clearing recipe it turned out mighty fine. And as with any casserole, all the work is in the prep. Once you’ve got it all together the oven does the rest.
Recipe Rating: A – easy to make, tons of great flavor – a stick to your ribs kind of dish.
Lesson Learned 1 – The beauty of this recipe is its adaptability: The basis for this recipe is tortellini, spaghetti sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheese. You can do a down and dirty quick casserole with just those ingredients. Cook the tortellini according the packaged instructions, combine with sauce, top with cheeses and bake at 375 for 30 minutes. That’s it. I had some celery, red pepper and mushrooms that I wanted to use. And I alway like to include onions and garlic whenever I can. To give the casserole more protein I added some italian sausage and I wound up with a “souped-up” casserole.
Lesson Learned 2 – The importance of deglazing: I prepped the ingredients for this casserole in the same pot in stages. I cooked the Italian sausage, browned the mushrooms, sautéed the onions, celery and pepper along with the garlic and at this point I had some lovely crusty bits on the bottom of the pan. I’ve learned over time that you never neglect those crusty bits. I’ll fill you in on a secret – that’s where all the flavor resides! I took a small amount of red wine (maybe one turn around the pan’s worth) and this nice cloud of smoke arose. After that I grabbed my trusty wooden spoon and voila – the crusty bits easily came off the bottom of the pan and combined with the other ingredients. Heaven!
Lesson Learned 3 – All ovens are not created equal: The cooking time in this recipe is based on my oven. When I researched similar recipes they said to bake this in the oven anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. I baked mine for 50 minutes and it turned out nicely browned, bubbly and hot all the way through. Get to know your oven and adjust the baking times accordingly. Since I live in high altitude I know that just about anything I cook in the oven will take longer than what is written in most recipes. So check your casserole at about 30 minutes and go from there.
This is a great fall supper. I served with with some roasted asparagus and crusty bread and it was a hit. Enjoy!
[recipe: title=”Sausage and Tortellini Bake…” servings=”6-8″ time=”1 1/2 Hrs. Including Prep” difficulty=”easy”]
1 lb. ground Italian sausage, cooked – drained on paper towels
1 9 oz. package of tortellini, cooked according to packaged instructions and drained
1 medium sized onion chopped
3 medium sized celery stalks diced
1 sweet pepper, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 8 oz. package baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1-2 cups shredded mozzarella (half queso mozzarella preferred)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese or half parmesan, half romano
1 24 oz. jar of spaghetti sauce
1/8 cup dry red wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375. Cook tortellini according to packaged instructions. While the water is coming to a boil for the tortellini, add 1 Tbs. of olive oil to a hot pan. Cook Italian sausage until there is hardly any pink left in the meat. Drain sausage on paper towels and set aside.
In the same pan saute the mushrooms until lightly golden. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. In the same pan add a little more olive oil and sauté the onions, celery and garlic. Salt and pepper to taste. Once slightly soft and translucent, add the chopped garlic and cook until fragrant – about 1 minute or less. Add the red wine and deglaze the pan. Add back the Italian sausage and mushrooms and heat through.
Drain the tortellini. In a large bowl combine the tortellini and sausage mixture until well combined. Pour mixture into a 3 quart casserole dish. Top with mozzarella cheese and then with grated parmesan (I used a grated parmesan and romano mixture as I had both cheeses in the refrigerator) Bake at 375 for 50 minutes (depending on where you live you may want to start checking this at 30 minutes) or until casserole is browned and bubbly.