Today I am making a whole wheat penne bake to take to friends who have recently had a baby. When I take a meal to someone, I usually double the recipe so that I have dinner taken care of for the fam that night too and this dish is great for that. I can remember my first time having this pasta bake. After we had Lola, our next door neighbors made this for us (moment of silence now as they are some of the best neighbors that we will ever have and they moved this fall and I am still devastated), Jeff and I ate this pasta bake as if we had not eaten a meal in 3 years. The balance of the sweetness from the tomatoes and the mild Italian chicken sausage and the vibrant flavor of the green bell pepper and tartness from the creamy goat cheese make this a uniquely flavorful pasta bake.
This recipe originated from a May 2008 issue of Cooking Light. It is called a 3 cheese penne bake. Now before anyone gets bent out of shape about the Nutritionist posting a pasta recipe with 3 cheeses in it, let me just say that if you like cheese and you choose to have cheese in your diet, then there is a balanced way that you can do so. Two of the cheeses in this pasta bake have a strong and sharp flavor, that means that a little goes a long way to flavor your dish. That being said, this dish is still pretty cheesy and therefore, it is one that I make on occasion. I would also serve smaller portions of the pasta and eat it with a salad or this roasted broccoli.
There are also some great nutritional trade-ups in this dish. Chicken and turkey sausage is used instead of pork, which decreases the fat content of the meal. You can usually find these versions of Italian sausage at the meat counter of your grocery store and also sometimes prepackaged.
Whole wheat pasta is used instead of regular pasta, which increases the fiber and nutrients of the dish. If you are someone that doesn't like the texture or flavor of whole wheat pasta, Barilla Plus brand is a good meet in the middle option. And while we are on the note of things you may not like, I know I lost some of you with the goat cheese. This dish is a good place to dabble in goat cheese if you have always felt it was too strong a cheese or if it just sounded gross, because the other flavors in the dish really do balance it out and it adds a creaminess with just a little cheese, that you just aren't going to get elsewhere.
As I mentioned before, the recipe is from Cooking Light and you can find it here on My Recipes. There is also nutritional information included on the website.
I have adapted the recipe some, mine is a little heavier on the veggies and a little lighter on the crushed red pepper so it suits little one's taste buds. So this is how I make it:
Preheat you oven to 350 degrees
Then heat a large pot of water over high heat, get it boiling, then cook your whole wheat penne according to the package directions.
Then chop up all your veggies
Aren't they beauties! Remember, different color vegetables = different vitamins.
Now, spray a large and deep skillet with cooking spray and heat it over medium heat. Then remove the casings from your mild Italian chicken or turkey sausage and add the sausage to the pan, stirring and crumbling it up until it is just about cooked through.
Now add your veggies, garlic and seasoning to the skillet with the sausage and cook until the bell pepper is tender.
Right now, don't you wish you could smell through the computer?
Then add your tomato sauce and let it simmer for another 5 minutes or so. Now add your drained pasta to the pan and stir. Spoon the pasta mixture into an 8 x 8-ish dish, add the mozzarella and goat cheeses and stir to combine. Now shred some parmesan reggiano. I swear by good imported parmesan reggiano, it can make all the difference in the world to your cooking. I buy mine in a big block, Kirkland brand, from Costco and save a bundle. That block of cheese lasts a long time around here.
Sprinkle the parmesan on top and then put that bad boy in the oven at 350 degrees for about 7-10 minutes. Just enough time to fix up a salad to serve it with.
- 8 oz Whole Wheat pasta
- 2, 4 oz links mild Italian chicken or turkey sausage
- 1 large green bell pepper or 2 small, chopped
- 1 small to medium onion, chopped
- 2 large cloves garlic minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
- 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 15 grape or cherry tomatoes
- Salt and pepper
- 1 oz can garlic and herb tomato sauce
- 3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled goat cheese
- 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan Reggiano cheese
- Preheat oven 350 degrees
- Cook pasta according to package directions and drain
- Heat a large, deep skillet over medium heat, coat pan with cooking spray. Remove casings from sausage. Add sausage to skillet, crumble it up while storing and cook until almost cooked through. Add bell pepper, onion, garlic, tomatoes, Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper, and salt and pepper. Cook about 6 minutes or until bell pepper is tender. Add tomato sauce and let simmer for 5 more minutes. Add pasta to the skillet and toss to coat. Spoon the pasta mixture into an 8 X 8 inch baking dish, stir in mozzarella and goat cheese, sprinkle Parmesan over top. Bake at 350 degrees for 7 minutes or until bubbly and top is browned.