I saw a recipe on the back of a stuffing box a few years ago that caught my eye. It called for the stuffing to be the top layer of a casserole. First off, anything that says “casserole” catches my eye, as the casserole is king in my humble opinion. I swear chicken casserole must have been in my baby bottle instead of formula. And then the stuffing portion caused a stir because I love stuffing. But when it comes to breadcrumbs, bread toppings, etc., I love croutons even more. My favorite crouton is Cracker Barrel’s sourdough, but I won’t turn away any crouton–Italian, herbed, Texas Toast, etc. So I decided to create my own version and let my beloved crouton be the star on the top.
I first worked up a chicken version last year and I found that I like the taste of chicken sausage better. Al Fresco brand tastes great. Their peppers and cheese version is what I used for this recipe and the sausage is already cooked. The tie that binds however is the fresh pesto. If you’ve never made pesto, try it! There is something so cathartic and satisfying about making pesto–fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and lots of parmesan cheese. You can keep it in your fridge (or freezer) and use it for so many things—soups, stews, pasta dishes, a spread, etc. It has so much flavor and really brings that to whatever you put it in. I made mine up fresh (here’s my recipe for fresh pesto), but you can buy it at your grocery.
I think this little crouton laden casserole is a perfect weeknight supper. If you already have the pesto made and in the fridge, the prep is a snap–literally 5 minutes. And while this cooks (in one pan), you’ve got about an hour to help your kids with their homework, workout, take the dog for a walk, or sit down with a glass of wine and relax. Supper’s on 🙂 Hope you enjoy!
- non stick spray
- 1 (12 ounce) package al fresco chicken sausage with red peppers and asiago, sliced
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
- heaping 1/2 cup fresh basil pesto
- 1 (14 1/2 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- salt for seasoning
- 3/4 cup uncooked mezze penne pasta
- About 3 ounces herbed croutons
- parmesan cheese for garnish
- fresh basil for garnish
- Spray an 8 x 8 baking dish with nonstick spray.
- Lay sausage evenly on the bottom of pan and top with mozzarella slices.
- Spread pesto on top of cheese (may add more if desired)
- In a small bowl, combine crushed tomatoes and pasta. Stir to blend.
- Spoon tomatoes and pasta on top of pesto.
- Sprinkle with salt if desired.
- Cover tightly with tin foil and bake at 350 degrees about 50-55 minutes or until pasta is tender.
- Remove from oven. Remove cover and sprinkle croutons on top of dish, roughly crumbling with hands, leaving some large chunks. Press crumbs and croutons down into tomatoes slightly.
- Sprinkle dish with parmesan cheese and basil and bake for 5 more minutes.
- Let sit for about 5 or 10 minutes before serving.
- I also cooked this with orzo pasta. Charlie prefers the penne, but I thought the orzo tasted great! Use 1/2 cup orzo and bake for 45 minutes.