Baked Pesto Penne with Italian Sausage
This fabulous casserole from my friend Kathryn Schwartz is hugely popular with longtime Scramblers and is ideal for company. You can prepare it ahead of time and bake it just before your guests arrive. For a lower fat and calorie version, eliminate the pesto.
- 12 oz. penne noodles (use wheat/gluten-free, if needed) or use any medium tube shaped pasta
- 1 lb. spicy Italian sausage (turkey, pork, or meatless) (use wheat/gluten-free, if needed), casings removed
- 1 yellow onion chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced, about 1 1/2 tsp.
- 28 oz. diced tomatoes with their liquid
- 7 oz. pesto sauce store-bought, or see Tip below to make your own
- 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, (optional)
- 6 - 9 oz. baby spinach
- 8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Cook the penne according to the package directions (if you use a 16 oz. box of noodles, make the whole package and reserve 1/4 to serve plain to picky eaters or for another purpose). Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
- Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, onions, and garlic, and sauté them, using a wooden spoon to break up the sausage, until it is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes to the pan.
- Simmer it until the sauce thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Stir in the pesto and red pepper flakes (optional).
- In the baking dish, combine the pasta, spinach, mozzarella, and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Gently stir in the tomato mixture. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese on top. (Note that at this point the assembled dish can be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)
- Bake it (on a baking sheet if the dish is very full) until the sauce is bubbling and the cheeses melt, about 30 minutes. Serve it immediately, refrigerate it for up to 3 days, or freeze it for up to 3 months.
Slow Cooker Directions
- Combine all ingredients except the pasta and cheeses in the slow cooker and cook on low for 7 - 8 hours (or longer, if desired) or on high for 3 - 4 hours. Stir in the mozzarella and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese during the last 30 minutes, and serve it over cooked pasta, topped with the extra 1/4 cup of Parmesan, if desired. Optional: for a crispy topping, instead of adding the cheeses to the slow cooker, mix them with the sauce and cooked pasta in a baking dish and broil in the oven for 5 - 8 minutes. (Slow cooker cooking times may vary—Get to know your slow cooker and, if necessary, adjust cooking times accordingly.)
Do Ahead or Delegate: Cook the pasta and store tossed with a little oil to prevent sticking, remove the sausage from the casings if necessary and refrigerate, chop the onion, peel the garlic, prepare and refrigerate the pesto sauce if making your own, shred the mozzarella and grate the Parmesan cheese if necessary and refrigerate, assemble and refrigerate the dish for up to 24 hours, or fully prepare and refrigerate or freeze the dish. Scramble Flavor Booster: Use spicy sausage and double the amount of red pepper flakes. Tip: To make delicious fresh pesto: In a blender or food processor, combine 2 cups (tightly packed) fresh basil leaves, 1 tsp. minced garlic, 2 Tbsp. pine nuts, 1/2 cup olive oil, and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Process or blend until coarsely chopped. Nutritional Information Per Serving (% based upon daily values): Calories 400, Total Fat: 17g, 26%; Saturated Fat: 6g, 30%; Cholesterol: 40mg, 13%; Sodium: 960mg, 40%; Total Carbohydrate: 37g, 12%; Dietary Fiber: 3g, 12%; Sugar: 5g; Protein: 23g Like this recipe? Check out The Scramble's family-friendly meal plans to see just how simple getting dinner on the table can be!
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