I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to Italy five times in the last 18 years; my first trip was a two-week stint with a group of fellow college students as part of a team to help renovate an apartment space for a pastor of a local church in Rome. It was the very first time I’d ever been out of the US; I’d just met The Professor a few months prior – we were good friends but we weren’t dating. That trip changed my life in a lot of ways but most significantly, it opened my eyes to an entire culture different than my own. And even though The Professor and I were just friends, I knew I wanted to make another trip and take him with me.
Fast-forward 18 years and The Professor and I have now made multiple trips to Italy; mostly work-related trips but we’ve also been able to squeeze in days of exploring regional foods, shops and tucked away small villages where bicycles and walking are the only mode of transportation. My spirit longs for Italy when I’m home, and I feel at peace when I’m standing on Italian soil; it might be because my maternal grandmother’s family were immigrants from the southern part of Italy or maybe it’s because we now have good friends who live there – I’m not sure, really – but we love Italy and her people.
Which brings me to this post – The Professor and I will be heading back to Italy again this summer for a nearly six-week visit; The Professor is taking a group of 14 students to Italy to shoot food stories and then he’ll be teaching at a University in the Marche region. I’m tagging along to assist with the students but I’ll also be helping at the Jovial Getaways that are scheduled during our stay.
I’ve written about Jovial many times in this space; in fact, they have been a client of ours for the past few years but I’ll also tell you that the brands we work with are brands we really do use – and that everything I write here are my own words, my own opinion, and my own experiences. So when I tell you that the Jovial Getaways have not only been a wonderful way to meet new people who become good friends, they’re also a terrific way to explore Italy while staying in a gorgeous, completely restored 18-century villa and eating authentic Italian cuisine made with some of the most gorgeous meats, cheeses and produce I’ve ever seen and tasted.
And the other news? Jovial is giving away a trip to one of their Getaways for one winner and a guest; airfare, accommodations, hands-on cooking classes and so much more.
I can wax poetic about Italy as well as the Jovial Getaways but honestly, the sights, the sounds, the flavors of Italy are something you need to experience first-hand. I’d love to see one of our readers win – it really is a trip of a lifetime!
GLUTEN-FREE BAKED PENNE WITH SPICY SAUSAGE
NOTE: This recipe for my basic tomato sauce makes approximately 3 cups of finished sauce and you’ll only need 1-1/2 cups for this recipe. Refrigerate the remaining sauce or bag and freeze up to 3 months. Additionally, you can make this dish vegetarian by substituting baby portabella mushrooms for the sausage; simply brush them clean and cut into quarters.
BASIC TOMATO SAUCE:
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 good pinch of red pepper flakes (approximately 1/8 teaspoon)
- 3 cloves of garlic, smashed, paper removed
- 3 18-ounce jars Jovial whole-peeled tomatoes including juice
- 3-4 stems of fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- Add olive oil, red pepper flakes and smashed garlic cloves to a cold Dutch oven or large pan; heat on low heat until garlic and red pepper flakes come to a low simmer. (Starting in a cold pan allows the oil to infuse with the heat of the pepper and flavor of the garlic)
- Add the tomatoes, pouring away from you as the oil will splatter; add the thyme, salt and pepper and for 30-minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly
- Allow to cool for 15-minutes and run the sauce through a food mill; discard solids and set aside 1-1/2 cups
- Refrigerate or bag and freeze the remaining sauce
FOR THE PENNE:
- 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ cup chopped onions
- 3 links spicy Italian sausage
- 1-1/2 cups tomato sauce, recipe above
- 1 Tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
- ½ cup peppadew peppers, rough chop
- ½ cup parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
- ½ cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 1 cup chopped mozzarella pieces
- ½ pound Jovial gluten-free penne pasta
- Spray a 8×8 casserole dish with cooking spray and set aside
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- In a large saucepan, heat olive oil and add onion, sauteeing until onions are soft – about 7-10 minutes; add sausage breaking into bite-sized chunks and continue cooking until no longer pink
- Add tomato sauce and fresh rosemary; continue to cook on medium-low heat for 20-minutes
- Meanwhile, bring a large, covered pot of salted water to a boil
- In a large bowl, add parmesan, ricotta and mozzarella cheese, a pinch of salt and pepper and blend well; set aside
- When the water is at a full boil, add pasta, give it a couple of good stirs and cook until al dente – about 8-minutes
- Drain pasta and add hot pasta directly into the bowl with the cheese; mix until blended
- Ladel 1-cup of tomato sauce into the bottom of the prepared dish; add pasta-cheese mixture, top with peppadew peppers and cover with the remaining sauce
- Sprinkle about 2 Tablespoons of parmesan cheese on top and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil
- Bake for 30-minutes; remove from oven and cool for 10-minutes before serving