All the comfort and flavor of baked pasta, without the carbs or gooey cheese? Sign me up! This recipe for Primal baked “pasta” uses a favorite noodle substitute, celery root, as a stand-in for the texture of penne pasta. Italian sausage, mushrooms and marinara fill out the dish, along with a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.
The marinara sauce is homemade and it’s a keeper, for its perfect simplicity and rich flavor. It’s a sauce that can be used for all your pasta-like dishes, from zucchini noodles to spaghetti squash.
This recipe uses canned, whole tomatoes because they have a more consistently intense flavor than fresh tomatoes do as the seasons change. Canned whole tomatoes also tend to taste better than diced/chopped or pureed canned tomatoes. Unfortunately, they’re harder to find in BPA-free packaging, but not impossible. If you can’t find BPA-free whole tomatoes, then use a good brand of BPA-free chopped tomatoes instead.
Once BPA is out of the picture, canned tomatoes have a lot going for them. Like other brightly colored vegetables, tomatoes are full of carotenoids and lycopene, among other nutrients. One of the best sources of lycopene is cooked tomatoes with fat, which exactly describes this buttery sauce.
Like most baked pasta recipes, this one tastes even better a few hours, or a day, after it’s made. But don’t let that stop you from digging in right away. After smelling the heavenly combination of onions, garlic, tomatoes and Italian sausage in the oven, it’s hard to resist.
Time in the Kitchen: 1.5 hours
Preheat oven to 425 °F/218 °C.
Pour the tomatoes into a 13×9 or similarly sized baking dish, and crush and break up the tomatoes really well with your hands. Add the onion, garlic, 1/4 cup/60 g butter, 4 basil leaves, oregano and salt. Mix well to combine. Roast in the oven, mixing once or twice, for 35 minutes, until thick.
While the sauce roasts, use a paring knife to trim the skin off the celery root. Cut the celery root into sheets 1/4-inch (6 mm) thick. Trimming the sides to make perfect squares or rectangles before you cut the sheets into “noodles” is optional. (A perfect shape doesn’t matter all that much, since everything will be baked together) Cut the sheets into “noodles” that are about 3/8” wide (9.5 mm) (like a thin French fry) then cut the noodle pieces in half so they’re about the size of penne pasta.
Toss the celery root pieces into a pot of boiling water and cook just until fork tender, but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
If the sausage is pre-cooked, then cut it into slices. If the sausage is raw, it can be cut into slices or pulled out of the casings so it’s loose. Either way, cook the sausage in a wide skillet over medium-high heat until nicely browned (and raw sausage should be cooked through).
Remove the sausage from the skillet and add the mushrooms. If more fat is needed, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter with the mushrooms. Cook, stirring as little as possible, until the mushrooms are nicely browned and the moisture has evaporated.
In a large bowl, mix together the roasted tomato sauce, celery root, sausage, mushrooms, 1/4 cup/60 g chopped basil, and whole cream. Mix well to combine and add salt to taste.
Spread the mixture out in a 2-quart/2 liter baking dish. Sprinkle Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.
Bake at 425 °F/218 °C, uncovered, for 25 minutes. To crisp up the top a little, put under the broiler for 3 to 5 minutes.