For the tomato cream sauce
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1/4 cup vodka
- 1 sixteen-ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 twenty-eight-ounce can plum tomatoes, cut into pieces, with juice
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 4 sprigs fresh oregano
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
For the meatballs
- 2 pounds sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing
- 1 pound uncooked rigatoni
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe
- 4 ounces fontina cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- Unsalted butter, for baking dish
- Coarse salt for cooking water
- Make the sauce: In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add vodka, and cook until liquid has almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, cream, oregano, and thyme. Cook at a gentle simmer about 30 minutes to let the sauce thicken and the flavors infuse.
- While sauce is cooking, make meatballs: Using your hands, roll sausage into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat, and sauté meatballs in batches until well browned and cooked through, about 6 minutes. Add to tomato sauce when cooked.
- Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add pasta; cook until very al dente, 2 to 3 minutes less than manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer noodles to a colander, and rinse with cold running water to stop the cooking. Stir noodles into sauce mixture.
- To assemble: Preheat oven to 375º. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Trim and discard the tough ends of broccoli rabe. Cut broccoli rabe into 1-inch lengths. Add salt to water, and blanch broccoli rabe in boiling water until bright green and just tender, about 1 minute. Drain in a colander, and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Add to pasta mixture, and stir to combine. Pour into prepared baking dish, and top with cheese. Bake until mixture is bubbling and top is slightly browned, about 30 minutes.