This dish has the classic Italian flavor combination of tomato, spicy sausage and broccoli rabe. Since it’s a baked pasta, it’s especially convenient because you can prep everything ahead of time, and simply put it in the oven to finish as your guests are arriving. Serve it family-style, piping hot, from oven to table.
Technique tip: The ice bath is important to stop the broccoli from over-cooking. Squeezing out excess water afterwards ensures it does not dilute the sauce.
Swap options: You can leave the sausage out to be vegetarian or sub another protein and/or use a favorite jarred sauce instead.
For the basic tomato sauce:
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and pepper flakes, if using) and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and their juices and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the sugar. Cook until the sauce is reduced and thickened, 45 minutes to 1 hour, using a potato masher to lightly crush the tomatoes as they cook.
Stir in the parsley and basil. Use immediately, or let cool completely, transfer to airtight containers and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.
For the pasta:1.
Set an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 375 F.2.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Season the water generously with kosher salt. Add the broccoli rabe to the water and cook for just 1 minute. Immediately strain broccoli rabe and transfer to a large bowl of ice water to shock and stop the cooking process. Transfer the shocked broccoli, squeezing out excess water, to a plate and set aside.3.
Bring a second large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Season the water generously with kosher salt. Add the pasta and cook for 2 minutes less than directed on the package, approximately 7 to 9 minutes. Drain pasta and set aside.4.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large high-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer. Add the sausage to the pan in an even layer and sear until browned on both sides and just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a plate.5.
Lower the heat and carefully add the vodka to the pan and cook, scraping any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the basic tomato sauce to the pan, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to simmer, approximately 6 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and half of the oregano and cook until warmed through. Fold in the sausage and stir to coat.6.
Transfer the sauce to a large mixing bowl. Add the well-drained pasta, the well-drained broccoli rabe and the fontina cheese to the bowl and toss thoroughly to coat and combine.7.
Using a pastry brush, coat the remaining olive oil on an 8- by 12-inch baking dish. Turn out the pasta into the baking dish. Top with the mozzarella and the Parmigiano, garnish with the remaining oregano and place in the oven. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes, until warmed through and cheese is melted, browned and bubbling.8.
Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.