Friday, July 29, 2011

Baked Pasta with Spinach, Lemon, and Cheese

I had pulled this recipe out of a recent Cooking Light magazine and finally tried it out. I have become a fan of dishes that include the vegetable for dinner as well, one less thing to have to prepare and worry about. I had to search a few stores until I found casarecce pasta at Whole Foods, but you can use fusilli, campanelle or radiatore if you can't find it. I altered the original recipe to use whole wheat panko, cut the onions by more than half and then added some lemon juice for extra flavor. With the modifications it gave it more flavor. It was a creamy sauce with the nice crispy crunch from the panko to balance it out. I enjoyed this hearty meal but didn't feel like it was a heavy cream sauce which is a nice change, especially in the hot summer.

Despite having the vegetable in with the meal, this is a rather time consuming dish so be sure to plan this one out. The first thing is to get the pasta water on so it has time to boil. While that was happening I was hands on with the onions and sauce which requires almost constant stirring.

Baked Pasta with Spinach, Lemon, and Cheese
Serves 6

Cooking Time: about 1 1/2 hours

10 ounce casarecce pasta (short twisted spaghetti)

1 (5-ounce) package fresh baby spinach
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 cups 1% low-fat milk
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup (4 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind 

1/2 freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Cooking spray

3/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), divided - I used whole wheat


1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Cook pasta in boiling water for 8 minutes or until almost al dente, omitting salt and fat. Remove from heat; stir in spinach. Let stand for 2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Drain pasta mixture well.

3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion; cook 15 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Add flour and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly with a whisk. Gradually add milk, lemon juice and wine; cook 8 minutes or until sauce boils and thickens, stirring constantly. Stir in 3/4 cup cheese, salt, and rind. Remove from heat; stir in pepper. Add pasta mixture to onion mixture, and toss gently to coat.

4. Spoon the pasta mixture into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle half of panko breadcrumbs over pasta, and top evenly with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Sprinkle the remaining half of panko breadcrumbs over cheese. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes or until browned and bubbly.

Adapted from: Cooking Light March 2011

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