Sunday, April 29, 2012

Comfort Food

Have you ever noticed how celebrations and gatherings inevitably involve food? Food is an integral part of every significant life event from birthdays to holidays, even death. Food is of course necessary to sustain life, but it is also an important way in which we sustain family relationships and friendships.  Food can be used to show our care or concern for those in need, to celebrate joy, or to commiserate in sorrow.

Jesus even used food in his ministry on earth. Scripture abounds with references to Jesus sharing meals with his disciples, miraculously providing meals for crowds, and even sharing meals with tax collectors and prostitutes. These examples show us how food can be used to meet people where they are and love them for who they are, all while sharing something essential.

The Women's Ministry at my church has a wonderful meal ministry for new moms. It allows women in our church to volunteer to provide meals for families in the weeks after a baby arrives. It is such a wonderful and useful way to love these families and it is such a meaningful way to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I love volunteering to help with these meals. I love being able to provide comfort food during the joyful and sometimes exhausting season of welcoming a new baby home. Depending on the amount of time I have to prepare a meal, I have a couple go-to menus for comfort food. If I have all afternoon to cook, I make a roast chicken with mashed potatoes, a veggie and a salad. If I have all day to cook, I typically add cookies and bake something for breakfast the next morning. If I am delivering something on a weeknight or under a time crunch, my go to recipe is Pasta Rustica with Three Cheeses and Chicken Sausage.

Pasta Rustica with Three Cheeses and Chicken Sausage
*recipe from Williams-Sonoma

2 tbsp EVOO
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 lb of chicken or turkey sausage, casings removed
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp hot red pepper flakes
1 can (28 oz) tomatoes in puree, tomatoes coarsely chopped and puree reserved
salt, to taste
1 lb penne pasta
1 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
2 cups shredded fontina or mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Heat EVOO in a large Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until golden, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for one minute.  Add sausage and cook, breaking it up into bite-size pieces.  Cook until no longer pink, about 6 minutes.  Stir in the basil, oregano and red pepper flakes.  Add the tomatoes and puree and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally until thickened, about 10-12 minutes.  Taste to adjust seasonings with salt.  Remove from heat.

In the mean time, preheat the oven to 350 and lightly oil your baking dish.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook your penne.  Cook the pasta until just barely al dente (about 10-12 minutes).  Drain and  combine pasta sauce and ricotta and mozzarella cheese and pour into baking dish.  Top with Parmigiano-Reggianno cheese and bake for about 30 minutes (until cheese is melted and tips of pasta are crusty).

Ready for the oven.  This also freezes really well before baking. 
I love this recipe. It's so easy to prepare I can practically do it with my eyes closed, but it packs a big punch of flavor (courtesy of the sausage and the red pepper) and I love the delicious combination of cheeses. Hope you'll give it a try and take it to a friend in need this week!

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