Sausage Pastiera is a quick-and-dirty pasta casserole that’s kid friendly and suitable for a weeknight pantry meal. The original recipe comes from the 1991 cookbook Preserving Our Italian Heritage, a community cookbook compiled by the Sons of Italy Florida Foundation. The first recipe I tried from this cookbook was a swing and a miss, which surprised and disappointed me. I’ve usually got a pretty good nose for recipes. I’m always on the hunt for some unusual flavor combination, but even if I’m not finding the diamonds in the rough I can typically find something that at least the family will enjoy. But my second go around with this cookbook was as bad as the first, maybe worse. But this time it’s on me.
When I first saw this recipe I was picturing something cheese or custardy, like a quiche or frittata. Pastiera is usually a dessert, kind of a cheese-filled pastry, and the ingredient list seemed to point to something custardy and smooth: pasta, cheese, eggs, and sausage all baked like a casserole. What I didn’t cotton to was that the proportions were all wrong for a custard. There’s just enough cheese and egg to bind it together, but not enough to make it fluffy, custardy, or even particularly moist. Sausage Pastiera is more like a dry pasta casserole, with the consistency of cold pasta that’s clumped together after a few days in the fridge. It tastes fine, especially if you use good sausage, but there’s nothing really to recommend it. It would have been easier and tastier just to crack an egg into hot pasta tossed with sausage and cheese.
It wasn’t until I got around to writing this up that I found my mistake. The original recipe calls for egg pastina, a small star-shaped pasta, whereas I had read egg pasta when buying my ingredients. I’m not sure whether this was just ignorance of Italian ingredients or I wasn’t wearing my glasses that day, but it’s clear that these two ingredients will have very different outcomes. Pastina can have almost a porridge-like quality when cooked, very different from slippy-slidey egg noodles, and definitely different when baked. That creamy, custardy pasta bake I had envisioned may still be out there, so long as it’s not upended by user error.
If, for some reason, you still decide to make the recipe “my way” I recommend drowning it in a cup of marinara. Or adding a few more eggs and a half cup of whipping cream. Or topping with a bechamel and some fresh parsley. Or even some garlic and fresh ground pepper. But on its own there’s just not much more than a curiosity and a mistake. My family, bless their souls, ate without complaining but the leftovers sat uneaten in the fridge for a week. It didn’t break my heart to toss them out.
- Preheat oven to 350° F
- Boil pasta as per package directions. Drain well.
- While pasta is boiling, brown sausage and drain excess fat.
- Mix pasta with remaining ingredients and pour into a greased 13x9 casserole. Bake for one hour or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Be prepared for disappointment.