After a weekend away, I returned to a fridge full of bits and pieces and decided to turn them into a baked pasta dish. Using four different cheeses...goat cheese, Parmesan, ricotta and mozzarella, along with some Basic Tomato Sauce that was in the fridge resulted in a creamy sauce.
There were 2 chicken breasts in the fridge, and I also used the half roasted red pepper, half zucchini, some caramelized onion, and the last 2 artichoke hearts that were there. A jar of garlic and eggplant dip that had 2 tablespoons left in it was also added to the dish. The fresh spinach was wilted and roughly chopped.
After using all of these bits and pieces up I felt really good, and the fact that the baked pasta was a success made me feel even better!
Start off by cooking 500g of pasta (I used penne) in a pot of lightly salted, boiling water. When the pasta is still slightly undercooked, drain it and set it aside until the sauce has been made.
Cut two chicken breasts into 1/2" pieces, season with salt and pepper and cook in a hot pan, with olive oil.
When the chicken is half cooked, remove it from the pan and set aside until needed.
Heat the same pan, add a bit more olive oil, and cook:
When the zucchini is starting to caramelize and soften, season with salt and pepper and remove from the pan.
2 cups of Basic Tomato Sauce
Simmer the sauce for a couple of minutes, allowing the sauce to soften and remove the yummy goodness from the bottom of the pan.
Prepare the other vegetables:
1/2 roasted red pepper, diced
2 artichoke hearts, chopped
3 cups fresh spinach, wilted and chopped
3/4 onion, sliced and caramelized
Combine the cooked pasta with the chicken, zucchini, spinach, onions, red peppers and artichokes.
Add the Basic Tomato Sauce to the pasta, chicken and vegetables, using a rubber spatula to scrape all of the goodness out of the pan.
Put the pasta and sauce into a 9" X 13" ovenproof dish. Turn the oven on to 350F.
In a bowl, combine:
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
2 tablespoons garlic and eggplant dip
salt and pepper to taste
Place the cheese mixture over the top of the pasta, spreading it as evenly as possible.
Sprinkle grated mozzarella over the dish, filling in any patches that have no cheese.
Bake until everything is heated through, the sauce is bubbling and the cheese melts and gets crispy and golden. Allow the pasta to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- As I mentioned at the start of the post this meal was a way to use up a lot of things that had accumulated in the fridge while we were away for the weekend. When I pulled them all out my first thought was that this would take a couple of meals to deal with, but then it all started to come together in my head.
- Pasta is a great way to use up vegetables, and this recipe takes advantage of that. The vegetables I used can easily be exchanged for others, such as olives; peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes that are a bit on the soft side; leftover grilled vegetables; the last of the broccoli; mushrooms to name a few. Experiment and you will be pleasantly surprised.
- Use fresh herbs or spices to make the different flavours combine in a way that makes sense. Some suggestions: fresh basil or rosemary, fennel seeds or minced fresh garlic.
- If you don't have any Basic Tomato Sauce, use cream sauce or pesto. Both of these are neutral sauces and can be used with most vegetables or meats.
- I literally used up various bits of cheese (the mozzarella was frozen). The combination of 2 soft and 2 hard cheeses worked well, as well as the fact that the goat cheese and Parmesan have strong flavours and the mozzarella and ricotta don't. This balanced creaminess with sharpness.
- Other creamy cheeses to try include cream cheese, brie or bocconcini. Sharper cheese include asiago, feta cheese or fontina.
- This pasta dish can be served as a vegetarian dish; there was chicken in the fridge so I added it. Other meats to consider are sausages, grilled and sliced or removed from the casing and crumbled; meatballs, beef or turkey; leftover meats, diced. Shellfish should be added raw, just before baking, as it can overcook and become rubbery. Larger prawns or scallops work well, so does cooked lobster or crab meat.
- Make sure that the pasta is slightly undercooked before adding the sauce and baking it; it will finish cooking as it bakes. I usually save some of the pasta cooking liquid until I am sure that the dish is saucy enough to provide the liquid needed for the pasta to finish cooking...it will absorb excess liquid as it cooks, and if you don't have enough liquid your dish will be dry. I didn't squeeze the excess liquid from the wilted spinach for this very reason.
- This dish can be assembled the day before. It can also be assembled and frozen for baking at a later date.