1 pound rigatoni or other tube-shaped pasta (penne or ziti work great here too)
1 1/2 pounds ground spicy or sweet Italian sausage
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 (28-oz) can whole San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional – can be omitted if using very spicy sausage!)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan plus 2 tablespoons for layering
~1/4 cup torn basil leaves (set aside a few additional leaves for garnish)
2 cups shredded whole milk mozzarella
1 tablespoon butter
Pre-heat oven to 425°F
Coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 baking dish evenly with butter
Set a large, heavy bottomed pot filled with water over high heat. Bring to a boil and add a a couple of hearty pinches of kosher salt. Add the pasta and cook approximately 7-8 minutes until al dente – the pasta will continue cooking in the sauce while baking so best to cook al dente here to avoid soggy pasta in your finished dish.
In a large skillet over medium heat add the sausage and allow to brown for a few minutes before breaking into bite-sized pieces with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking until all meat is browned with some nice crispy bits on the edges, approximately 6-7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a plate and set aside. Drain sausage fat from the skillet, leaving enough to film the bottom of the pan in order to sauté the garlic. Return the skillet to a burner set over low heat and, using a microplane, grate garlic into the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until just softened, 30-60 seconds. Squeeze the whole tomatoes through your fingers and into the pan with the garlic and pour in any can juices. Using a potato masher, crush the tomato and garlic mixture to incorporate all of the ingredients and create a nice, thick sauce. Add salt, pepper, honey, and crushed red pepper (if using) and cook over low to medium heat for approximately 10 minutes.
Once your sauce has simmered and reduced slightly, return your cooked sausage to the pan along with the heavy cream, ½ cup of Parmesan, and torn basil. Add your cooked pasta and stir until all ingredients are well combined.
Transfer about half of the pasta mixture to the prepared 9 x 13 inch baking dish and top with 1 cup of mozzarella and the remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan. Add the remaining pasta mixture and top with last cup of mozzarella. Tuck into the oven and bake, uncovered, for approximately 20 minutes. The cheese should be bubbly and browned in spots. Tear over a few additional basil leaves and serve.