Black Bean Mexican Casserole with Spicy Sausage and Ricotta

This meal is real soul food from the heart of central Mexico and very different from the familiar restaurant style Tex/Mex cooking. Rebekah and I have been making this little feast for at least twenty five years… I think a good portion of our four kids’ DNA is made up of this family favorite. We always make two or three casseroles at once, and it makes endless lunches and dinners, and if frozen in the glass casserole dish, is an easy dinner for four any time you need it. It is hearty, healthy, spicy, addictive and deeply satisfying, a comfort food that is a real protein bomb… in which the flavors are both separate and yet married in a magical way.

This casserole is built like a layered cake, the first layer is the main filling of simmered together sausage, onions, garlic, red bell peppers, smoky chipotle peppers in an adobo sauce, salsa, cumin, cilantro, salsa and limes. The second layer is our home made brown rice, in which we use chicken broth instead of all water. And the next layer is whole milk ricotta cheese, which makes the whole casserole airy and easy to dive into. These layers are repeated twice, so you have six layers in each casserole. And on the top are strips of mild pickled green peppers and tons of shredded spicy jack cheese, which makes this feast all melty creamy crazy umami good. The combination of the cheeses, brown rice and black beans is a potent protein meal for the whole family, and the light fluffiness of the ricotta keeps them coming back for more.

Ingredients

2 large sweet or brown onions, chopped
I red onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, crushed
2 large red bell peppers, chopped
3 serrano peppers, minced
1 1/2 pounds sausage (we use Mexican style chorizo or spicy sausage, which should be uncooked loose meats taken out of the casings, not sausage that is pre-cooked or smoked or dried)
2 or 3 limes, depending on size and juiciness, squeezed
2 cans black beans
1 pound whole milk ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons rice vinegar or white vinegar
1 entire bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons cumin seeds, ground
3 cups brown rice, already cooked
1 cup salsa or hot sauce (we use hot spicy chilies and tomatoes or tomatillo)
1 dried chipotle pepper, ground and 1 dried negro pepper, ground
OR
1 small can (7 oz.) chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (we use Embasa)
2 small cans of sliced strips green Anaheim peppers
3/4 cup jalapeno peppered jack cheese, shredded
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
2 casseroles with lids, ceramic or glass

Cooking

In a large 14 inch fry pan, crush the garlic into the cold olive oil and slowly heat until it sizzles but not browned. Add the onions, bell peppers and serranos and sauté until onions are opaque, and then salt and remove from pan. In the same pan, fry all the sausages, chopping the meats into bits, until barely cooked.

Add the black beans, rice vinegar, cumin, salsa, dried peppers or chipotle peppers in mole sauce, cilantro and lime juice. Simmer until married, about 10 minutes.


 
In the two casseroles, place the brown rice in the first layer on the bottom. Using a ladle, now add a thick layer of the meat and bean mixture. Now add a third layer of the ricotta cheese. Repeat this layering until both casseroles are full, with a ricotta layer on top.

Place the Anaheim strips on top in a festive decoration, sprinkle with shredded jalapeno jack cheese and then sprinkle paprika on top. Cover and bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, until it is bubbling and aromatic.