Baked Rigatoni

Tomorrow (Friday), I shall departing this fair Chicagoland and returning to the quiet woods of New Hampshire.  I've been feeling a little off-kilter these past few weeks, as I've taken a hiatus from crew due to a mysterious back injury (which thankfully isn't a stress fracture, but now I have no clue what it is); so I'm looking forward to going home and focusing on my health... And making up for all of these months without cable TV.  I shall be watching ALL of the Foodnetwork (i.e. Ina, Giada, Chopped, Iron Chef America), and What Not to Wear, AND Say Yes to the Dress... Oh goodness... How I've missed glorious, glorious television.

In any case, my departure means that the perishables in the refrigerator must be used, or else discarded, which I find unacceptable.  My solution is this baked rigatoni, which I threw together from such leftovers, and produce remnants, as: a head of broccoli, two sweet Italian sausage links, the last of the milk, a few basil leaves, and a hunk of extra sharp cheddar cheese, plus some non-perishable staples.  I fancy these something-out-of-nothing meals as sort of my specialty.   I've found that my best meals usually come from my desire, or need, to use up leftovers and nearly-time-to-throw-away produce.  I nearly made this one a one-pot-meal too, but I had to boil the rigatoni and broccoli, darn!  Nonetheless, this one was quickly thrown together and plopped in the oven while John and I watched another episode of Deep Space Nine.  If I'd had extra cheese, and perhaps some breadcrumbs, I would've sprinkled them over the top with a little butter, but the oven still made a crispy-crunchety crust of the exposed rigatoni.

Also, please excuse the photos for the risotto post and this one.  I haven't had my camera around while I was making these last two dishes, since Delilah (my camera) resides in my dorm room and I was cooking at John's apartment, so my iPhone had to do the job.  I'm sorry.  But my homeward-bound-ness means that perhaps I'll have access to my dad's nice fancy wide-angle lens, so I'll have extra pretty photos for the rest of December.  Hooray!

Baked Rigatoni

1/2 lb. rigatoni
1 head broccoli, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 lb. (2 links) sausage, casings removed
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
6 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated (this measurement isn't very exact; I had ~3/4 of a block of cheese left, but if you like things cheesy and you have more than this, go for it)
Handful basil leaves, torn

In a large pot of boiling, salty water, add the rigatoni (notice how I'm only using half of a box - this makes enough for ~3 normal hungry people).  When it's shy of being almost al dente (~4 minutes), add the broccoli.  Just as a side note, the stem is perfectly good to eat, even though most people throw it out.  Isolate the stem by cutting off the florets, then cut off the woody end (~1 inch) and peel the outer layer of flesh either using your knife or a peeler.  From here, I usually cut the stalk in half length-wise and make thin half-moons, but that's just me.  Cut them however you'd like.

While the pasta is cooking, break up the sausage into a hot castiron skillet with the olive oil, searing until crispy and just cooked through.  Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and leave the fat.  Whisk the flour into the drippings and cook for ~2 minutes to remove the raw flour taste, then add the chicken stock and milk.  Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium heat, whisking frequently.  Add in the mustard and cheese, then reduce the heat to low until the pasta and broccoli are both al dente.  Drain the pasta and broccoli, and toss them into the sauce with the cooked sausage.  Bake for ~30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the top is browned.

Sprinkle on the torn basil leaves, and dig in.  

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