September 12, 2010

Baked Pasta with Spinach, Bacon and Breadcrumbs

I was craving a baked pasta over the weekend and wanted to use up some random items in the fridge, so I came up with this dish. It was fairly tasty, but I would do a couple things differently if I made it again.

The first problem was that I added a box of frozen spinach to the sauce because I was trying to make it healthier, and unfortunately I don't think the spinach added any flavor to the final dish. Maybe it would have been better if I had had some ricotta to mix in with it. Or it needed some spice. Perhaps there is a reason most recipes add a little nutmeg to spinach!

The second problem was the crispy topping. I decided not to toast the panko prior to baking because I figured the oven would toast it. And it was crunchy, but it was bland bland bland. I was mighty disappointed. Next time I will toast the panko and parsley with olive oil and salt for just a little bit before sprinkling on top.

The recipe below is how I made it this weekend.

Baked Pasta with Spinach, Bacon and Breadcrumbs
Serves 5-6

Extra virgin olive oil
6 slices bacon, diced
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
35 oz can peeled whole San Marzano tomatoes with juice
Dried Italian seasoning
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 lb dried ziti or rigatoni
1 box frozen spinach, thawed and water wrung out
1/2 lb mozzarella, cubed
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs (or whatever you have)
Handful fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly oil large baking/casserole dish.
2. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat until browned. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and generously salt once it is boiling.
3. You want about 2 tablespoons of "fat" in the skillet to cook the onion, so add olive oil to the bacon grease until you have enough. Cook onion for about 5 minutes or until soft. Add garlic and stir until fragrant (about 1 minute). Add can of tomatoes with their juice. Use your spoon to break up tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning. Bring mixture to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes or until thickened.
4. Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling water until less than al dente. (It will continue to cook in the oven and you DO NOT want over cooked pasta!) Drain.
5. Stir thawed spinach into tomato sauce. Remove from the heat and stir in the mozzarella, then mix in the pasta. Transfer to the baking dish.
6. Sprinkle the bacon over the top of the pasta, then the panko and parsley. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Season with salt, then sprinkle the top with grated parmesan.
7. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.

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