Thursday, May 23, 2013

Baked Meaty Pasta

Don't you love recipes where you dump the pasta in with everything else, and it magically cooks just right? I do! I used ground bison, you could use any ground meat: beef, lamb, turkey, chicken, even vegetarian "meat." This is extremely simple and extremely satisfying, with a layer of gooey cheese on top. Gets even better on reheating.

This recipe uses homemade creamed spinach, which is easy to make. You make a Bechamel sauce (a milk sauce thickened with butter and flour, one of the classic French sauces) and mix in chopped spinach. You could use a package of frozen creamed spinach, but it's so easy to make your own, why not make it from scratch? Tastes a lot fresher too.

Baked Meaty Pasta
(serves 6-8, costs $9.50, though the cost will vary depending on meat used)

non-stick cooking spray
1 pound ground meat
about 1 teaspoon salt
about ½ teaspoon black pepper
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
½ teaspoon garlic powder
2 Tablespoons dried minced onion
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 cups water
8 ounces dry penne, regular or whole-wheat
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon flour
1 cup milk (skim, low-fat or whole)
10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (see Note)
4 ounces grated mozzarella cheese, about 1 cup

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a 3 quart baking casserole dish with non-stick baking spray and set aside.

Spray non-stick cooking spray on a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add the ground meat and brown. Break up the big chunks into small pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Add in the tomatoes, garlic powder, dried onion, oregano, basil, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper and water. Stir to combine and simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Spoon enough sauce into the baking dish to cover the bottom. Add the penne. Spoon the rest of the sauce over the penne.

In the same skillet that you cooked the sauce in (no need to clean it out), melt the butter. Add the flour and stir to combine. Add the milk, stirring to smooth out the lumps. Cook until the milk thickens. Add the spinach, stirring to combine. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour spinach over sauce. Cover with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes until the casserole is hot and bubbly. Sprinkle on the cheese and return to the oven, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes.

Note: Instead of frozen spinach, you can use a 10 ounce package of fresh baby spinach, coarsely chopped, or 2 cups cooked broccoli. You can even use a combination, which is what I used.

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