Listen! Do you want to know a secret? Chefs love casseroles. I base this on two sources: Emeril Lagasse and Alton Brown, both of whom have claimed a love of casseroles. Try making up a few of your own, and I think you'll see why they love them so much. Over the years, I've become a big fan. They're quick and easy to make, you get to make them how you want, and when they're done you just toss 'em in the fridge and have lunch covered at work for the next few days. Every so often, I just have to put one together.
This one was kind of fun. At the same time, it was also pretty odd. You're probably gonna scratch your head a lot as I describe it, but that's okay. First, I started a box of pasta boiling. This was a whole wheat rotini that I stocked up on a while back. While that was happening, I made quick work of dicing a hot link sausage and a red bell pepper. Then I sauteed the sausage on high heat (for color and flavor) and then dropped the heat to medium to render out some of the fat. Then I moved the sausage to a stack of paper towels to drain and sauteed the bell pepper in the fat that had rendered out. I poured those out over the sausage and grabbed a little can of pineapple tidbits. Yes! Pineapple tidbits! For those of you who don't believe in the combination of fruit and savory foods, leave 'em out.
I first added the pineapple tidbits to the pan, sans juice, to give 'em a little color. This is when I also added a little Worcestershire sauce and some chipotle Tabasco. When those had a nice color, I deglazed with the pineapple juice and let it reduce until most of the liquid was gone. By this time, the pasta was fully cooked (whole wheat takes a little longer than regular pasta) so I drained it out and added it back to the pot it was cooking in (with the heat turned off). I added the sausage, bell pepper and pineapple. Normally at this point, I would add a jar of some kind of red sauce. But my wife has never been a fan, and I think she especially couldn't handle it right now, so I added a jar of alfredo sauce instead. Has it gotten weird enough for you yet? I stirred to combine, and comtemplated where I was. By this time things had cooled a bit, so I added a cup of shredded cheddar and stirred it up. I poured it all into a greased 13 x 9 glass baking dish, and topped with another cup of shredded cheddar.
But I wasn't done yet! No! I took about 1 1/2 cups of croutons, smashed them up a little bit with my rolling pin, and sprikled them on top. Then I finished up with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. This I baked for about 20 minutes at 350F, covered with foil for the first 10 minutes to keep the top from burning. Then I let it sit for a good half hour (an hour would be better) before serving. This was so that when I cut into it, it would stay set up into nice little squares, which were still plenty warm.
Now, you could easily have used red sauce in this, and it would have still been stellar. And you can leave out the pineapple if you want, but I actually liked the contrast. But I'm the sort that likes pineapple on his pizza. Don't cringe, half the country loves pineapple on their pizza and half hate it. I probably would have been happy with another hot link sausage, but the amount of bell pepper was about perfect. Try it! You'll like it!