4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, cut crosswise into 1-inch slices
1 pound hot Italian sausage, cut crosswise into 1-inch slices
4 cups thinly sliced onions
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup vodka
2 (16-ounce) cans crushed whole tomatoes, with their juice
1 teaspoon Essence, recipe follows
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound penne pasta
15 ounces ricotta
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
11/2 cups grated mozzarella
Crusty bread, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet or saucepan over high heat. Add the sausages and cook, stirring, until browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onions, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and the black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are just soft, about 4 minutes. Add the basil and garlic, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the vodka and tomatoes; reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes. Add the Essence and heavy cream, stir to mix, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

To cook the pasta, combine 4 quarts water, the 1 tablespoon olive oil, and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt in a large pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, add the pasta, and cook until al dente, 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain well. Combine half of the ricotta cheese and half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano with the remaining 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a large mixing bowl. Add the pasta and toss to coat evenly. Add the sausage mixture and mix well. Add the remaining ricotta cheese and the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano and mix well.

Transfer the mixture to a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the mozzarella. Bake until bubbly and golden, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven. Serve warm with crusty bread.

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

Yield: 2/3 cup

Recipe from "New New Orleans Cooking", by Emeril Lagasse and Jessie Tirsch, published by William and Morrow, 1993.

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