Thursday, August 23, 2012

Spinach & Sausage Pasta Bake

I found this recipe on my friend Rachael's blog. You can see the original here. I have not altered the recipe much, but I have noted a few preferences in how I prepare it. I call it something different, because I couldn't remember the name of it at first, and because I already have a traditional baked ziti recipe that I love. So this is now "Spinach & Sausage Pasta Bake."  It feeds a TON of people, so it is a great recipe to halve and freeze or to share with guests. Everyone will love it.

Spinach & Sausage Pasta Bake

  • 1 pound medium or hot Italian sausage  
  •  1/2 cup chopped onion 
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped 
  • 1 28 ounce can diced peeled tomatoes 
  • 1/4 cup pesto 
  • 10 ounces ziti or penne pasta (about 3 cups), freshly cooked 
  • 1 box frozen chopped spinach, cooked and drained according to instructions on the box  (OR 4 handfuls of baby spinach leaves) 
  • 6 ounces grated or cubed mozzarella cheese 
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese 

Cook sausage, onion, and garlic until sausage is cooked through. Bake pasta according to package directions. Add tomatoes with juices to meat mixture, and simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add pesto to meat mixture, and season sauce with salt and pepper. (You can prepare up to this point a day ahead and refrigerate. Bring mixture back to a simmer before continuing.) Preheat oven to 375*, and lightly grease a 13"x9" glass baking dish. Combine pasta, spinach, mozzarella, and 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese in a separate, large bowl. Stir in warm/hot tomato mixture. Place in prepared baking dish. Sprinkle remaining 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese over the top. Bake until sauce bubbles and cheeses melt, about 30 minutes.

Notes: I have used mild and hot sausage, as well as pork or venison varieties. I normally don't like spicy sausage, but it really enhances the flavor to use something other than mild. The first time I made it I used frozen spinach because I had it on hand (and it's cheap!), and that works fine. I have also used a combination of mozzarella and monterey jack cheeses at least once, because, again, it was what I had on hand.

Funny story: I made this meal for a family in our church, and used an aluminum lasagna pan to prepare it. Even as good-sized as the pan was, there was a little left offer, enough for a small casserole dish. I fixed it one day for Nathan and myself to eat and enjoy for lunch. On the spur of the moment, a friend stopped by to visit and I offered her lunch. Imagine her surprise when, instead of my usual pb&j, I offered her this delicious pasta. I even prepared squash and zucchini to go with it, as I had some in my refrigerator that needed to be eaten. She raved about the pasta (trust me--you will too!), and was highly impressed with my spontaneous lunch. I told her to not expect that to ever happen again. Things just aligned perfectly that one day. I doubt I can ever make that happen again!

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