"I got a nice steak at the butcher."
"I made a nice salad with dinner."
"That's-a nice-a meat-a ball-a!"
But I digress. Back to the pasta bake.
The beauty of making such a dish is that it's very flexible and can be modified according to your preferences. By adding a lot of veggies and using reduced fat cheese, it's also pretty healthful! You could even sub in half whole wheat pasta if you wanted to up your fiber ante.
It would also be an easy, inexpensive, and attractive way to feed a crowd! I have it bookmarked for the next time the fam comes for a nice visit.
Zucchini, Escarole, and Italian Sausage Pasta Bake (serves 6-8)
1 lb. of your favorite pasta (I used farfalle)
1 cup escarole, sauteed (I used 1 head of escarole and it cooked down to about 1 cup)
1 cup thinly-sliced zucchini, sauteed
About 3/4 lb. hot Italian sausage, cooked, crumbled, and drained
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (or to your tastes)
About 50 oz. canned plum tomatoes, undrained
4 large sprigs basil
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup basil, chopped
2 cups part-skim mozzarella, shredded
1 cup fontina cheese, shredded
1 cup fresh Parmesan, grated
- Preheat oven to 450 F and spray a 9x13 baking dish (or two 8x8 baking dishes) with cooking spray.
- Prep the sausage: Remove the sausage from the casings and cook over medium high heat. Crumble as it cooks until cooked through. Set aside.
- Prep the veggies: Give the escarole a rough chop, and slice the zucchini. Saute in the same pan that you cooked the sausage in. Add a little olive oil (between 1 tsp. and 1 tbsp.) and season with salt and pepper. Remember to buy more veggies than you think you'll need — they shrink when they cook! Set aside.
- Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until very al dente (2-3 minutes less than "done"). Drain the pasta and set aside.
- Make the sauce: In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add minced garlic and the red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic is just golden (don't brown too quickly or it'll add a bitter taste). Carefully add the canned tomatoes and crush them with your hands. Add the 4 sprigs of basil and simmer the sauce, uncovered, until it is thickened — about 15 minutes. (Optional: You can also use 4 cups of prepared tomato sauce. I don't recommend it since the above is so simple, but you can do it!)
- Put it all together: To the tomato sauce add the chopped basil and parsley, sauteed veggies, and cooked Italian sausage. Toss in the cooked pasta and half of each cheese. Spread into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the pasta.
- Bake up some magic: Bake, uncovered, until browned — about 15 minutes. Let rest on the counter for about 15 minutes before serving. Also delicious reheated the next day! Just add a few drops of water, cover, and nuke.
Click here for the printable recipe!