I’m obsessed with Italian food and it’s a problem for my lactose-intolerant household.

We’ve been re-watching The Sopranos, which means it’s all Italian all the time. It also means I walk around saying things like, “Think, Christophaaah, think!” and, “What am I, a toxic pershon or shumthin?” My husband isn’t loving the Italian food theme (lactose intolerance), but he’ll survive until I finish Season 6B this weekend and move onto Six Feet Under. Actually, that’s probably not going to help at all, because the first thing I’ll make will be stroganoff in honor of Nikolai the florist.

I mixed up the Italian Sausage for this dish myself, because fennel is the worst and I hate it. I will forever more be hand seasoning Italian Sausage, because it was perfect. No licorice flavor ruining every bite and the brown sugar really shone through in the mix.

Ingredients:

  • 3 handfuls of fresh spinach
  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage (see below for my mix!)
  • 3 tbsp olive oul
  • 1 lb ricotta
  • 12 oz. jumbo shells (cook them 3 minutes less than the package says)
  • 2 cups marinara, let’s be honest, store bought is fine for this.

Béchamel;:

  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 cups whole milk, we use Lactaid.
  • 1/2 cup grated parm
  • Pinch of nutmeg, cayenne, and salt

Bring your oil up over medium heat and add your sausage. Cook, breaking up sausage with a heatproof rubber spatula for 5–7 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until most of the liquid from the spinach evaporates. Let cool for a few minutes and then add ricotta and salt to taste. Set aside.

Melt butter in a pan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking occasionally, until mixture smells nutty, 2-3 minutes. Stir in milk, then increase heat to medium-high. Whisking constantly, bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook just until thick, about 8–10 minutes. Add Parmesan and whisk until melted, then whisk in cayenne and nutmeg; season with salt. Cover béchamel and keep warm.

I like to do my noodles while I cook the béchamel, so the béchamel doesn’t have time to get thick and icky before you’re ready to stuff the shells.

Preheat oven to 375°. Spread half of the béchamel into a 9×13 casserole dish. To stuff the shells, spoon a heaping tablespoonful of sausage filling into each shell and fit next to each other to create rows. Pour remaining béchamel over shells, then spoon on marinara sauce. Top with more Parmesan.

Bake for 35 minutes.

Sweet Italian Sausage: To enjoy your own fennel-free sweet Italian sausage, mix the following ingredients together and chill until ready to use.

  • 1.5 lbs ground pork
  • 1.5 tbsps red wine vinegar
  • 1.5 tsps salt
  • 1.5 tsps black pepper
  • 2 tbsps Italian seasoning
  • 2 tsps dried parsley
  • 1.5 tsps onion powder
  • 1.5 tsps garlic powder
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1.5 tbsps brown sugar

The sausage was glorious and I’m planning on picking up a meat grinder soon to grind my own pork to make some link sausages. Adventures in drunken sausage-making coming to a blog near you.

-Lin

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