This recipe resulted when I set out to create a dish that was a combination of odds and ends in my 'fridge and pantry that I wanted to put to good use; sometimes, that is how a really delicious dish is born! I love the contrast of sweet and savory, the creaminess from the cheese sauce, and the subtle herbal notes. It's also faster than typical baked pastas, as after it's prepped on the stove it is simply run under the broiler. Add a crispy green salad or roasted veggies, and you have a lovely weeknight dinner. This is "Barry-approved" as well, an avowed sausage hater, so I did something right!
1 pound cavatappi pasta
1 Tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces shredded Cheddar-Monterey Jack blend cheese
4 ounces shredded Swiss cheese
4 ounces shredded Parmesan cheese
2 ounces unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
12 ounces chicken-apple sausage, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 sweet yellow onion, sliced thin
2 medium or 1 very large JonaRed or Honeycrisp apples, peeled, cored, and chopped very fine
1/4 cup cider or hard cider (or a combination of half Marsala-, heathalf apple juice, or 1 T. Apple Jack liqueur and 3 T. apple juice)
1/4 cup flour
3 cups whole milk, heated
1 Tablespoon dried sage leaves, chopped (I used 2 T. fresh, minced, but in the winter when my herb garden is out of commission I use dry)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a 6-quart Dutch oven, 4 quarts of water to a boil and add salt to taste. (Should taste like sea water.) Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente, about 8 minutes.
In the meantime, combine the cheeses in a bowl and set aside.
Drain the pasta in a colander and place in a large bowl. Add 1 Tablespoon olive oil and toss until the pasta is coated. Set aside.
Wipe out the Dutch oven and heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and the butter over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and onion, and cook until softened and begins to get some golden brown color, 10 minutes.
Add the apples and cook until lightly softened, 4-6 minutes. Pour in the Apple Jack or Marsala and apple juice or cider and cook, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan until the liquid is mostly evaporated.
Sprinkle the flour over the mixture, stirring to evenly coat all of the ingredients, making sure there are no lumps of flour at all. Cook for a minute or two. Slowly pour in the milk, stirring constantly, until it is incorporated without any lumps. Bring it up to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until is is thickened.
Preheat the broiler. Spray a 9 X 13-inch baking dish with non-stick spray
Reserve 1 cup of cheese, and add the rest of the cheese, sage, and thyme to the pot. Stir as the cheese melts and is well incorporated, a minute or so. Add the cooked pasta and mix well, coating the pasta well with the cheese and sausage mixture. Remove from the heat and add salt and pepper, to taste.
Pour into the prepared pan, and sprinkle with the reserved cheese. Broil until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown, 2-4 minutes, rotating the pan if needed. Remove and let the pasta rest for 10 minutes before serving.