Baked Penne with Sausage, Tomato & Cauliflower

A true crowd pleaser, so invite some friends over to share this.


  • A generous pinch of saffron threads
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 head cauliflower, left whole but core trimmed out
  • 1 tablespoon EVOO
  • 1 pound bulk Italian sweet sausage or links with casings removed
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 1 thin cinnamon stick (2 to 3 inches long)
  • 1 (28- or 32-ounce) can San Marzano tomatoes (look for DOP on the label)
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 pound penne rigate
  • 8 ounces mild provolone, caciocavallo, or young Asiago cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


In a small saucepan, combine the saffron and stock over medium heat.

In a large covered pot, steam the whole head of cauliflower over 1 1/2 cups salted boiling water until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain the cauliflower and break into florets.

In a Dutch oven, heat the EVOO (1 turn of the pan) over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it into crumbles as it browns (I like to use a potato masher). Add the onion and garlic and cook to soften, about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Add the bay leaf, cinnamon, saffron stock, and tomatoes, breaking up the tomatoes a bit. Simmer 30 minutes to thicken. Discard the bay leaf and cinnamon and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Stir in the cream.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and cook the pasta to just shy of al dente, 6 1/2 to 7 minutes. Ladle out about a cup of the starchy cooking water. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

Add the starchy water to the sauce. Add the sauce to the pasta along with the cauliflower, tossing to combine. Transfer to a 3- to 4-quart baking dish, top with the 3 cheeses and parsley.

Make-ahead: Cool, cover, and refrigerate.

Night of: Return the casserole to room temp while you preheat the oven.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Bake the pasta until hot throughout and browned on top, 35 to 40 minutes.

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