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Paleo & AIP Baked Penne with Italian Sausage Casserole is savory comfort food — complete with an easy 10-minute dairy-free cheese that you will simply love. This recipe fills a big casserole dish for plenty of hearty helpings or welcome leftovers.
And how exciting to have real pasta again! It’s grain-free, but you’d never know it, thanks to cassava flour!Jump to Recipe
Paleo and AIP penne pasta!
I had to create a recipe with Jovial’s new cassava pasta! This post isn’t sponsored in anyway; it’s just such an exciting product that so many of us have been waiting for — it’s time to make classic pasta dishes again!
Yes, this is real pasta. If you haven’t tried it yet, it tastes exactly like any pasta made with grains, but it’s made with grain-free cassava flour. It cooks the same (but for a little longer) and behaves the same in any recipe.
Paleo & AIP Baked Penne with Italian Sausage Casserole
With penne in my cupboard, the first thing that came to mind was a classic Italian dish with sausage and either Nomato or Tomato sauce — depending on whether or not you’re AIP and/or nightshade-free.
This dish was born — full of gorgeous Italian food staples we all love, that are also AIP-compliant.
Paleo & AIP Baked Penne with Italian Sausage Casserole ingredients
In addition to Jovial’s Penne pasta, ground pork and Nomato (or Tomato) Sauce, this recipe features artichoke hearts, capers, olives and dried herbs.
I also use classic tomato sauce “mirepoix” veggies: onion, celery and carrot to create a robust casserole with lots of great flavor and fiber.
Lastly, Paleo & AIP Baked Penne with Italian Sausage Casserole is topped with a dairy-free cheese — which seriously, only takes 10 minutes to make in a small saucepan and is EASY and no-fuss. I love how this topping finishes off the casserole and how it tastes.
All about the dairy-free cheese
I used my friend Amanda’s recipe as a jumping off place to make this cheese, but made some changes for our dietary preferences. I’m not a big fan of nutritional yeast or orange palm oil, so I used extra onion, garlic, dried oregano and subbed the palm oil with canned pumpkin.
This recipe is super easy, fast, predictable and reliable, as well as being delicious. I first fed it to a 10-year-old (friend of my son) who said he loved it and asked me to send the recipe to his mom. He’s dairy-free and said he hasn’t liked other dairy-free cheeses. So, that made me happy, because kids are a great barometer for what tastes weird and what actually tastes good.
Ingredients and how the dairy-free cheese cooks
- All we do to make dairy-free cheese is combine in a small saucepan: coconut milk, lard or ghee, apple cider vinegar, garlic, onion, oregano and sea salt. We heat the milk to quite hot but not yet simmering.
- Meanwhile, we stir together water, canned pumpkin, cassava flour and tapioca flour in a small bowl. This slurry gets stirred into the hot coconut milk mixture.
- Then we whisk while it thickens (and the flour cooks), for about 5 minutes.
(It’s a lot like making any other cheese sauce, actually.)
That’s it. Done.
TWO OPTIONS: SOFT, WARM CHEESE … TO SPREAD ON
You can either pour this warm mixture directly on the assembled casserole, spread it out and bake the casserole.
Or you can make the cheese ahead of time, pour it into a lined dish, and chill it. Then it’s ready when you are: to slice it and lay it on the casserole before baking.
MAKE AHEAD, CHILLED CHEESE, TO SLICE
If you choose the second option, the cheese won’t melt into itself; the slices will just puff a bit when cooked and be soft on the inside. Personally, and for the photos in this recipe, I used the tines of a fork to smoosh it around and then broil it briefly, so the topping to the casserole looks like real melted cheese. You can do this or leave the “slices-look”, whichever you prefer for your family.
How to assemble Baked Penne with Italian Sausage Casserole
- All of the veggies (the “mirepoix” of sautéed onion, celery and carrot, the artichoke hearts, olives and capers) get added to the pot of cooked pasta.
- The cooked ground pork and dried herbs get added too.
- And the No/Tomato Sauce.
All of these are tossed together.
They’re poured into a large, greased casserole dish. Then topped with either the warm, soft cheese or the slices of chilled cheese — depending on whether you chose to make the cheese ahead of time or not.
As mentioned, now you can smash the cheese a bit if you want to (if you used chilled, sliced cheese), and then broil, so the topping looks like real cheese.
Leftovers and how to reheat Paleo & AIP Baked Penne with Italian Sausage Casserole
Leftovers of Baked Penne with Italian Sausage casserole are great cold, if you enjoy cold pasta. I think it’s yummy this way because of the artichoke hearts and sausage, plus the cheese.
Paleo & AIP Baked Penne with Italian Sausage Casserole is great reheated too, especially because this big recipe will certainly yield more dinners, if you wish, if you don’t have a big family. (If you do have a big family, this casserole serves 6 to 8 big portions.)
HOW TO REHEAT Paleo & AIP Baked Penne with Italian Sausage Casserole
Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Cover casserole dish with a layer of parchment paper or other oven safe surface to keep it from drying out. If there are open spots in the casserole dish where first portions were taken out, add enough water to cover that space by about a 1/4″. This will create steam and prevent bits on the dish from burning. Heat for 25 minutes, or until heated through.
You can also make this dish or reheat this dish in a small cast iron skillet or individual baking dishes, as pictured below.
Paleo & AIP Baked Penne with Italian Sausage Casserole
- saucepan (for cheese) and large pot (for pasta)
- casserole dish
Easy Dairy-free Cheese Topping (10 minutes on the stove top!)
- ½ cup + ⅓ cup coconut milk canned full-fat
- ½ cup water or bone broth
- ⅓ cup canned pumpkin
- ¼ cup cassava flour Otto's or Bob's brands only (other brands are too starchy)
- 2 Tablespoons tapioca flour also called tapioca starch
- 1 Tablespoon lard or other solid fat such as ghee, bacon fat etc.
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon granulated onion powder
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
Baked Penne Italian Sausage Pasta Casserole
- 1 8-ounce package Jovial brand cassava penne pasta
- 2 pounds pork sausage bulk, high fat, preferably pasture-raised
- 1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts rinsed and chopped into bite-size pieces
- 1 cup Kalamata olives pitted and sliced in half (or other kind of olive, if you prefer)
- 1 cup No-Tomato Sauce I like to make this ahead of time and keep it on hand so it's easy to grab for any recipe. If you're not nightshade-free, you can also use regular tomato sauce (for Paleo etc.)
- 1 large onion chopped small
- 2 whole celery stalks chopped small
- 1 whole carrot diced
- ¼ cup capers chopped
- 1 Tablespoon lard or other fat of choice: ghee, bacon fat etc. (for sauteing the veggies)
- 1 Tablespoon oregano dried
- 2 teaspoons sea salt (+ 1 teaspoon additional sea salt for sautéing the veggies) 2 teaspoons for the 2 pounds meat (If you choose to use less meat in this casserole, be sure to reduce the sea salt accordingly: 1 teaspoon for 1 pound meat.)
- 1 teaspoon basil dried
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
Dairy-free Cheese Topping (Can be made several days ahead of time or right before you bake the casserole.) See video in main post to watch the sauce being made.
- First: Decide if you want to make the Dairy-free Cheese ahead of time or not. If you want to make it and pour it into a lined mold to slice, simply line a small glass casserole dish with a layer of parchment paper. If you wish, spray any bare glass sides with coconut oil spray. Now, go ahead and make the cheese ahead of time. Then you'll chill it until you're ready to make the rest of the recipe. This is the best choice if you like to meal prep and want your dinner assembly to be extra fast with one less step.*If you want to make the Dairy-free Cheese right before baking the casserole, you can keep it warm while you assemble the casserole. This is the most straight forward way to make the whole recipe, because the cheese is a sauce that's easy to spread on the pasta dish, and the cheese sauce cooks up really fast.
- To a medium saucepan, add: coconut milk, lard or ghee, apple cider vinegar, garlic, onion, oregano and sea salt. Heat over medium-high heat while whisking until the mixture is very steamy, almost simmering.
- In a 2 cup measuring cup with pour spout (or bowl), whisk together the water and pumpkin. Add cassava flour and whisk until incorporated. Add the tapioca flour and whisk again, until evenly mixed.
- Pour the cassava mixture into the saucepan of hot milk, and continue to whisk and cook over medium-high heat. The mixture will begin to thicken after about 1 to 3 minutes (depending on how hot the milk was when you mixed in the cassava flour slurry), and then keep thickening. The "cheese" will become gelatinous/sticky and pull away from the sides or bottom of the pot somewhat as whisked. Cook for another 1 to 2 minutes after the cheese pulls away from the sides or bottom of the pan, about 4 to 5 minutes total after the mixture first thickened.
- Pour Cheese Topping directly onto assembled casserole, keep it warm until the casserole is ready OR pour into lined dish to chill for later.
Baked Penne Italian Sausage Pasta Casserole
- Grease large casserole dish, any shape is fine, which holds 2-½ to 3 quarts (9"x13" is fine, or I used a deep 9"x11"). Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Cook penne pasta according to package instructions. Remove from heat when still al dente, after 10 to 15 minutes cooking time. When you pour off the salted cooking water, reserve ½ cup of it. Put strained pasta back in its cooking pot with the ½ cup water. Set aside.
- Heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 pounds pork and 2 teaspoons sea salt. Cook, breaking up the meat, until most of the pink is gone, about 8 minutes. Add herbs: oregano, basil and onion powder. Cook another 1 to 2 minutes. Then turn off the heat and set aside. (This recipe assumes you are using full-fat pasture-raised high quality pork. Do not use lean ground pork. If your pork is not high-fat, add two tablespoons lard or other fat to the pan while the meat cooks.)
- In second skillet, heat the 1 Tablespoon lard (or fat of choice) over medium-high heat, and sauté onions, carrots and celery + 1 teaspoon remaining sea salt, stirring often, for about 8 minutes, until softened and browned in spots. Turn off heat. Set aside.
- To large pot with pasta, add artichoke hearts, capers, olives, Nomato (or tomato) Sauce, cooked sausage and sautéed veggies. Stir together well. Pour into greased casserole dish. Top with either slices of chilled Dairy-free Cheese or warm, soft freshly made cheese.
- Bake about 40 to 45 minutes, times will vary just slightly based on casserole dish size and depth. Edges of casserole will have tiny sizzling bubbles and be browned slightly. Cheese will be puffed, golden and melted inside. If you used sliced cheese, you may wish now to smash it around a bit and broil it. If so, remove casserole, use the tines of fork to smash cheese around a bit so the pieces run into eachother; smooth it out so it looks nice. Sprinkle with additional oregano if you wish. Broil on low heat (to protect casserole dish) for about 5 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool 5 to 10 minutes. Serve!
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Looking for more delicious Paleo & AIP recipes? Try these:
- Scallop Scampi with Zucchini Noodles
- AIP BBQ Chicken (Nightshade-free)
- Low Histamine Instant Pot Chicken & Sweet Potato Stew