Monday, June 4, 2012

Exploring the Kitchen: How To Cook an Easy Pasta Casserole

Sometimes, it is fun to throw a whole lot of delicious items into one pan or casserole dish and call it dinner.  The other night, I decided I wanted to try a Pasta Casserole of my own creation.

My mother would sometimes make lasagna in a pan.  This was all ingredients from lasagna in a pan and stirred.  This was always a favorite and absolutely delicious.  Inspired by this I began putting lasagna like items in a casserole dish.

Pasta Casserole
16 oz Wheat Penne Pasta
2 cups of washed, fresh spinach leaves
6 oz jar of Artichoke Hearts (chopped)
4.25 oz can of Sliced Black Olives
24 oz Tomato Sauce (I like Classico)
19.5 oz Turkey Sausage (I like Hot Italian style for some kick)
15 oz Ricotta Cheese (part Skim)
8 oz Mozzarella Shredded Cheese - Skim (double depending on how much you like cheese)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Start by cooking the pasta as designated on the container.  About 12 minutes should do it.  I like to add a bit of olive oil and salt to the boiling water.  Olive oil to make sure the noodles don't stick.  Salt adds a bit of flavor for the noodles.  I use about a teaspoon of each.

Turkey sausage does not have as much fat in it as Italian sausage, so I use a teaspoon of olive oil so the meat does not stick to the pan.  First, remove the sausage from the wrapping and chop.  Add to the heated pan and add basil (fresh or from the spice rack).  I enjoy basil.  I use about 2 tablespoons.  Cook Italian sausage all the way through.  Continuously chop or break the sausage apart.  This should take about 15-20 minutes.

In a large casserole dish, add some pasta sauce (about 1/4 of the jar).  Then add about half of the noodles.  Add some more pasta sauce.  You should have used about half of the bottle by now.  Mix the noodles and pasta sauce together.  Add ricotta cheese by adding chunks and spreading the cheese through the noodles gently so you don't mush the noodles (I use the back of a regular spoon).

Add the turkey sausage and mix thoroughly adding a little more pasta sauce.  Add the remainder of the noodles, olives, artichoke hearts (chopped) and spinach (uncooked).  Add the remainder of the pasta sauce and mix all together.  Sprinkle cheese over the top evenly.  Sprinkle the top of the casserole with basil for the taste and the fact it just makes it look prettier.

Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until the cheese is melted.  I use skim cheese versus non-fat cheese as I have found non-fat cheese does not like to melt as easily.

And dinner is served!  Serve with a salad with a light vinaigrette, Italian Tuscan Bread and some wine.  Enjoy!

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