Friday, July 24, 2009

Baked Pasta Casserole

I have been dying to try some of the recipes from 101 Cookbooks. I have several bookmarked to try, but the Baked Pasta Casserole really caught my attention. (Please click on the link and look at the picture - it is so pretty!) I like baked ziti a lot, but sometimes all the cheese and sauce can be really heavy, and since I sometimes put meat in it, that makes it even heavier. This light pasta dish has spinach and not too much mozzarella, and no tomato sauce. It wasn't too much work, either.

Montana is an expert chopper so she chopped up the spinach into small pieces. She also cut the onion using Alton Brown's tip to cut it next to the lit burner on your stove - it helps to not make you cry, and it really works!

I toasted some pine nuts (this was a substitution we decided to make - the recipe actually calls for almonds), and shredded the mozzarella. I also zested 2 lemons. This was one of my favorite parts of the dish - the hint of lemon from the zest. The recipe mixes some of the zest in with the spinach, and uses the rest sprinkled on the bottom of the pan. You can sprinkle zest on the bottom of any baked casserole like this to give it a little something extra.

We cooked the pasta a little less than the pasta box directions - about 7 minutes, instead of the 9 recommended for al dente. This worked out really well because the pasta goes into the oven and gets cooked more. If we hadn't drained it early, it probably would have gotten mushy, and who likes mushy pasta? We also used regular pasta - I'm not sure how I feel about whole wheat yet, and I don't feel like paying a lot for pasta when I can get it for 33 cents a box!

I really like the onions in this dish. They are sauteed with the spinach and garlic, which gives the final product an extra dimension.

The dish turned out well overall, although we agreed that it could have used a little more oil. If I make it again (and I probably will soon) I want to try adding ricotta to cover the pasta a little more. One thing I really like about traditional baked pasta dishes is that I can freeze them in individual portions and have one whenever I don't have time to make anything, or I can bring it with me for lunch. I want to rework this dish a little to make it freezable - since there is no sauce, it definitely won't freeze well. Another recommendation in the recipe is that if you don't want to bake it, you can just toss the pasta with the spinach mix and serve it with mozzarella sprinkled on top. I might try this too, although I would probably use some parmesan or something similar instead of mozzarella, and I would use a lot less of it. There are endless possibilities to vary this recipe, which is one of its greatest qualities!

Again, I forgot to take a picture because I was just ready to eat it all! Check back later to see if I remember to post a picture of the reheated leftovers. If you want to see it now, click on the recipe link and look at those beautiful photos.

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