If you don't like mushrooms, please feel free to leave them out. If you love mushrooms, I recommend using shiitake because they are so wonderfully flavorful. Or you could augment creminis with dried porcinis that have been reconstituted in hot water.
Save time on prep by chopping the onions and mushrooms while the sausage is cooking, and grating the cheese while the pasta is cooking.
- 3/4 lb vermicelli pasta or thin spaghetti
- 1 lb bulk sweet Italian sausage
- 1/4 pound shiitake or cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped, about 1 1/2 cups
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 3 cups or 24 ounces of marinara or meatless tomato sauce*
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 Tbsp olive oil plus more for greasing the casserole dish
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 2-3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
*You can make your own or use a good quality jarred sauce. To make your own, make a double recipe of our basic tomato sauce, blend it smooth to use in this baked spaghetti recipe.
1 Put a large pot of water on the stove on high heat. Add salt to the water, about 2 Tbsp for 6 quarts of water. While the pasta water is heating, continue with the next steps.
2 Break up the sausage into clumps into a large sauté pan. Turn the heat on, to medium. Slowly cook the sausage, breaking it up into smaller pieces with the a wooden spoon. The slow cooking will help the fat render out. Cook until the sausage is cooked through, no longer pink anywhere, and lightly browned. Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Drain the fat from the pan (not into your sink or you may clog it!)
3 Add the chopped onions and mushrooms to the pan. Increase the heat to medium high. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions become translucent and the mushrooms have given up some of their liquid. Add the minced garlic and red chili pepper flakes, and cook a minute more.
4 Add the marinara sauce and the 1 1/2 cups of water to the pan with the onions and mushrooms. Add the sausage back to the pan. Add the Italian seasoning and chopped parsley. Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to a very low simmer on the lowest simmer setting on your stovetop. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes or so while you make the pasta.
5 By this time your pasta water in step one should be boiling. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook, uncovered, at a rolling boil, for 5 to 6 minutes, al dente. Note that the pasta will continue to cook and absorb some of the sauce when it is in the casserole dish in the oven, so the pasta should be al dente. When ready, drain the pasta and rinse in cold water.
6 Place the cooled pasta in a large bowl. Toss with olive oil, then the Parmesan, then 2 beaten eggs. It's easiest to do this with your (clean) hands.
7 Preheat your oven to 350°F. Rub the inside of a 13x9 inch casserole dish (a Pyrex dish works great) with olive oil. Spread 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of the casserole dish.
8 Place half of the pasta in an even layer in the casserole dish.
Cover with half of the sauce. Then dot the sauce with all of the ricotta cheese. Sprinkle half of the Mozzarella over the ricotta layer. Layer again with the remaining pasta, the remaining sauce, and the remaining Mozzarella.
9 Cover with foil and bake for 40 min at 350°F. Remove the foil and bake an additional 20 minutes uncovered. Remove from oven and let rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares and serving.