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1 pound hot or sweet Italian fennel sausage, casings removed
1 (28-ounce) can tomato puree
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground fennel
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound penne (I used gluten free brown rice penne)
3 cups ricotta
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Preheat the oven to 400°.
In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.
Add the minced garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 15-30 seconds.
Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat, until browned, about 8 minutes.
Add the tomato puree, water, sugar, bay leaf and fennel. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat until thickened, about 30 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.
Meanwhile, cook the penne in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente.
Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the meat sauce.
Transfer the remaining sauce to the pot with the pasta. Toss to combine.
Spoon the pasta into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
Pour the reserved meat sauce over the pasta and dollop large spoonfuls of the ricotta on top.
Gently fold some of the ricotta into the pasta; don't overmix—you should have pockets of ricotta.
Scatter the mozzarella on top and sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Bake the pasta in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes, or until bubbling and golden on top.
Let rest for 20 minutes before serving.
*Make Ahead/Freezer Meal: Prepare the recipe above but spoon the pasta into a freezer- and oven-safe container. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the pasta and dollop large spoonfuls of the ricotta on top. Gently fold some of the ricotta into the pasta; don't overmix—you should have pockets of ricotta. Scatter the mozzarella on top and sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Cover and freeze. When ready to serve, defrost and bake the pasta in a 400 degree preheated oven for about 45 minutes, or until bubbling and golden on top. Let rest for 20 minutes before serving.