Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Baked Pasta with Chicken Sausage

Pasta dishes are usually a popular item around our house, not to mention great for pot-lucks or for taking to friends in need.  This one is a really delicious variation that we all very much enjoyed and I'm looking forward to having again.  The flavor of the chicken sausage goes great with the spinach (which is one of those veggies I don't even try to get into my kids apart from a casserole, where they don't even notice it!) and adding a little cream to the tomato sauce takes it to a whole new level of yumminess.  Plus having two kinds of cheeses doesn't hurt anything.  Does it ever?  

It makes a lot, a very full 13x9" pan.  Freezing part is definitely an option, instructions are included at the end.

Note: The original recipe called for using a pound of pasta, which I did, but I felt like the dish would have been slightly better (more saucy, less dry) with a little less pasta, so next time I'll use a 13.25 oz box of whole wheat pasta.  

Recipe (adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe)

1 T. olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. dried basil (or 1 T. fresh basil, chopped)
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 (13.25 oz) box whole wheat pasta (rigatoni or rotini)
10 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and drained well (can substitute 1 9-oz bag fresh spinach)
12-16 oz. precooked smoked chicken or turkey sausage, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4"  thick (you'll find this in the same section as the hot dogs, next to precooked kielbasa
8 oz. mozzarella cheese, 4 oz. cut into small cubes and 4 oz. shredded
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese (fresh or from a can)

Preheat oven to 400°.
Cook pasta in salted water as directed on box. (If using fresh spinach, add it to the pot of boiling pasta right at the end and cook until wilted.) Drain and return contents to pot. 
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion; cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic.  Cook for another minute.
Stir in tomatoes, oregano, and basil; simmer for 8-10 minutes.  Add cream; cook until warmed through, about  2-3 minutes.  Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste.
Add tomato sauce, sausage, spinach, and cubed mozzarella to the pasta in the pot; toss to coat.  Season with salt and pepper.  Scoop pasta into a lightly greased 13x9" pan (or divide evenly between two 8x8"pans).
Top with grated mozzarella and Parmesan.  Bake until browned and edges are crisp, 20-25 minutes.

*Freezable Meal: Prepare recipe right up until the baking step and then cover with a double layer of aluminum foil. Freeze. Thaw in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. To bake, increase baking time to 1 to 1 1/4 hours. If baking from frozen, bake covered for 1 hour and 15 minutes, uncover and bake 30 minutes longer.


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