Baked Rigatoni with Roasted Butternut Squash, Sausage and Rapini

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This is a hearty savory pasta bake with juicy bites of sausage, a creamy cheese sauce, hits of bitter from the greens and sweet bits from the roasted butternut squash.  It hits every taste bud in just the right way.  This is easy enough for family dinners and potlucks and special enough for a weeknight dinner party. 

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I came into the butternut squash fan camp way late in life.  I am embarrassed to say – given my mantra to my kids, “at least try it before you say you don’t like it!” – that it wasn’t until last Fall that I discovered my extreme love of this roasted beauty.  I had assumed (and you know what they say about assuming …) butternut squash would taste like sweet potatoes, one of my culinary arch-nemeses. By St. Boogar and all the saints at the backside door of purgatory!! I was wrong and am in the throes of making up for lost time.

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Uncle Frank’s Italian Sausage

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Uncle Frank and his pilfered sausage making machine. It’s a whiz but he’s not sure where it came from or when it got there. It’s a mystery. If it’s yours, give him a call.

Italian sausages with the snap of real hog casings filled with juicy pork and the perfect balance of cheese, wine and herbs.  Fire up the grill!

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Another fabulous family cook pops out of the woodwork of our wacky family tree!  Uncle Frank is the husband of my mother’s younger sister, Dot.  He is a retired DC fireman, father of 10, currently a custom home builder, and (most important for our purposes here) a very good cook.  Lucky us!  Breakfasts at the Principe house would put an IHOP buffet – should an IHOP buffet serve Rapa brand scrapple – to shame… and that’s just on your standard Wednesday.  Breakfast not your thing?  Pfft! If you need a soup, Uncle Frank’s your man.  Other than one unfortunate incident where he went all not-in-a-good-way-free-form on a pot of pasta fazool (yes, I do have the memory of an elephant … a bizarre elephant but an elephant nonetheless), that man can toss things into a pot and come up with the most delicious combinations.

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Roasted Chicken, Sausage & Pepperoncini

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A sheet-tray meal popular in our family long before they became an Instagram sensation (or there was even color television), this combination of crisp-skinned chicken, juicy sausages, and potatoes that have sopped up the delicious flavors of the meats, garlic and pepperoncini are a perennial family favorite and perfect for feeding a crowd.

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Growing up in a large extended family, I learned two very important family meal rules pretty quickly.  First, never giggle while saying grace.  The hand of Bunny, backward with onxy ring a’flashing would be down on the back of your head in a New York second.  Second, and probably even more importantly, never ever sit across from Cizzie at the table.

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Pizza

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That’s all you’ve got to say and they come running.  Few things make me as content in the kitchen as making pizza.  It’s a slow-down, wine-in-hand, stop-and-smell-the-pepperoni, family-absorbing time.  I putter around making dough and sauces, cutting up, and sauteeing… it can take as little as half-an-hour to prep or upwards of half a day, depending on my mood.  Both can turn out faboo pies and attract wayward family members from the far corners.

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