Life has been crazy recently.
Between camping, vacation, my trip to Philadelphia and our trip to Chicago, traveling has been the norm for the past two months. Finally, things are starting to calm down (well, until the holidays come around) and we’re starting to return to our routine. We haven’t made a menu and gone for a full grocery shop in weeks, and finally, today, I got to pull together a menu and take a list to the store.
It is amazing how comforting routine can be. To me, peace of mind is a stocked fridge and pantry. I am at my happiest when the cars have full tanks of gas, the checkbook is balanced, and the fridge is full of food. I find comfort in readiness. I’d always rather be over-prepared than to be without something. This is probably why our grocery budget is so out of hand (look for a future post on this).
You know what else I find comfort in? Pasta that is baked with a ton of cheese and a delicious, flavorful tomato sauce.
As you can see from the above menu, we call this dish “Bakey Cheesy Pasta” mostly because it is fun to say. But you are welcome to call this whatever you’d like. This is one of the dishes that has made the transition from back when we were first married and living on a pretty wimpy paycheck. A box of pasta, a jar of sauce and a bag of mozzarella baked in the oven makes for a delicious, comforting and cheap meal. Now that the funds are little more open, we supplement our Bakey Cheesy Pasta with veggies and meat.
We have also upgraded from $0.99 canned pasta sauce from Aldi (yeeeeesh) to organic sauce from Muir Glen, which I happened to get on super sale with some coupons and obviously stocked up on.
If you are so destined, go ahead and make your own sauce. You’re a better person than I, because I use canned pasta sauce like it is going out of style. Truthfully, I think the sauces in jars are so good now. And let’s be honest, I’m a child of the early 90s, where jarred pasta sauce was king. Ain’t no hatin’ on the jar.
Saute up some veg (as Mr. Jamie Oliver would say) in a little olive oil. Onions, red and green peppers and garlic.
Meanwhile, get your pasta going. Go ahead and salt the water. I used a 12 ounce box of whole wheat penne. I think this recipe is particularly well suited for whole wheat pasta because the time in the oven helps break down the slight grainy-ness of the whole wheat (which I love, but I know a lot of people don’t).
You could do this recipe vegetarian (I have many times), but I think adding a little bit of high-quality ground beef adds a nice heartiness and dimension of flavor. I only use 1/2 pound for about 6 servings. Once the veggies have softened, add the meat and brown. Since it is such a small amount, go ahead and leave the drippings.
Embrace the drippings. Fat = flavor. Also, embrace your oven and turn it on to preheat at 375°.
In goes the sauce. About half a jar. Store the other half in the fridge to use as pizza sauce for Friday Night Pizza Night (FNPN).
Drain the pasta well and toss it into the sauce mixture. Remove from heat and stir so all the pasta is coated in the lovely, veggie-filled sauce.
Mmm. You could definitely stop right here, put it in a bowl with some Parm on top and have a delicious dinner. But we’re moving on. Because we have bakey and cheesy to get to.
Into a square casserole. I usually put half of the pasta mixture, then a layer of cheese and then the remainder of the pasta and top with some more cheese and beautiful basil ribbons.
Into the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the pasta has absorbed any excess sauce.
Top with some fresh Parm. Cheesy people, chees-y.
Bakey Cheesy Pasta
1 T. olive oil
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/2 red pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 pound ground beef
12 ounces whole wheat penne (or other medium-sized pasta), cooked per directions
1/2 jar pasta sauce
1 c. shredded mozzarella
Handful basil leaves, chiffonade (optional)
Preheat oven to 375°. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium-low heat. Saute peppers, onions and garlic until just softened. Add ground beef and brown, keeping beef drippings in the pan for flavor. Remove from heat, add pasta and pasta sauce and stir until well-coated. Spoon half the mixture into a square baking dish, cover with half the cheese. Repeat with remaining pasta and cheese. Sprinkle top with basil ribbons. Baked for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted and pasta has absorbed most of the sauce.
This goes quite well with a Caesar salad made with my Silken Tofu Caesar Dressing.
And a nice hunk of crusty garlic bread.
Bakey Cheesy Pasta also makes it into the leftovers hall-of-fame. It is hands down, one of my favorite dishes to have for lunch at work and will certainly make Monday much easier to stomach tomorrow.
Speaking of lunches, I’m off to go pack them for tomorrow. Hope you had a fantastic Sunday, friends!