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Pasta night is made for elections

| Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, 9:12 p.m.
Noel Barnhurst
Election Night Pasta with Spicy Tomato and Sausage Sauce.

At this time of year, there are nights when we can't be distracted from our televisions by the need to prepare a meal. Sports events are a major culprit here, but in my household another is election night. So what's a cook to do on nights like these? I recommend a pasta dish that is made ahead and only needs to be baked just before serving.

I like to make pasta casseroles that include vegetables and chicken or other meat, if possible.

Helpful advice:

• Place the baking dish on a cookie sheet to avoid dripping on the oven.

• Bake the pasta in a wide, shallow baking dish so there is more topping.

• This can be prepared 2 days ahead, covered and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator 12 hour before baking. It might need a few more minutes to bake if it is cold.

• Bake the pasta uncovered so the top will brown.

• Divide this mixture into 2 smaller baking dishes and freeze one.

Election Night Pasta With Spicy Tomato and Sausage Sauce

1 pound hot Italian sausage, casing removed

1 medium-size onion, finely chopped

3 medium-size cloves garlic, minced

2 jars (26 ounces each) favorite marinara sauce

6 tablespoons favorite homemade or store-bought basil pesto

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Water, for boiling pasta

1 pound penne pasta

12 pound smoked Gouda or mozzarella, cut into small dices

1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1 bag (6 ounces) baby spinach leaves

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the sausage. Cook, breaking up the meat with a spoon as it cooks, for about 5 minutes or until no pinkness remains.

Add the onion and saute for another 5 minutes or until softened, mixing around to evenly cook the onion. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the tomato sauce and simmer on medium heat for another 10 minutes, or until the sauce begins to thicken. Add the pesto, salt and pepper, and mix to combine. Taste for seasoning. Reserve.

Add salt to a large pot of boiling water. Add the pasta and cook over high heat until al dente. Drain well.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Spoon over a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan.

In a large bowl, combine the pasta with the remaining sauce, cubed smoked cheese, 13 cup parmesan cheese and spinach leaves, mixing well to combine. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese on top of the pasta.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the casserole begins to bubble and the cheese is browned.

Serves 6 to 8.

Diane Rossen Worthington is the author of 20 cookbooks, and also a James Beard award-winning radio-show host.

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