I have a recipe I love for baked penne. It is loaded with three kinds of cheeses and these ethereal chicken meatballs that you fry in olive oil until they have a brown crunchy crust. It is wonderful and when I make it, it takes hours to prepare and I always feel vindicated to have an especially massive piece of it after such hard labor. Since I embarked on my weight loss journey, I have been terrified to make this particular dish because I know it is loaded with fat and calories and I know that I can’t be trusted to eat a tiny portion. In fact, I have been known to dig cold meatballs out of the casserole and pop them into my mouth at a moments notice. Not a good thing to have in my house, no.
I love Italian food and I especially love all of the baked dishes. I didn’t think I could indulge in such cheesy, saucy fare so I have seriously been depriving myself for so many months now.
Recently, I have expanded my usual magazine fetish due to finding out how great Cooking Light and Eating Well have become. As a matter of fact, I can’t get enough of Cooking Light magazine. During the holidays, I noticed a special edition Meals in Minutes issue of Cooking Light at the store and took it home. There was a baked pasta dish included in this issue. It sounded sort of pedestrian. Not so special as the baked penne I love so much. However, looking at the nutritional information, it looked like it would fit nicely into my allotted food for the day. I decided to give it a try. The original recipe called for spicy Italian turkey sausage, regular white pasta and full fat mozzarella. I switched these ingredients for chicken basil sausage, whole-wheat penne and part skim mozzarella. I used a really full flavored parmesano reggiano. What came out of my oven last night made me want to weep. Nothing can replace my original favorite recipe but this was so very good, so healthy and so simple to make that I am very happy indeed.
Baked penne with sausage
Adapted from the best of Cooking Light meals in minutes
1 pound whole-wheat penne rigate
1 pound chicken and basil sausage
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves
1 tbsp tomato paste
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp fresh ground pepper
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes (with basil and garlic if available)
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
1 cup shredded part skim mozzarella
1 cup grated parmesano reggiano
Olive oil cooking spray
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and return to the pot. Cover and set aside.
Remove the casings from the sausage. Heat pan over medium heat and spray liberally with cooking spray. Add onion, garlic and sausage. Cook until sausage is browned. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the fresh basil and sauce into cooked pasta and mix well. Oil a 9”x13” pan. Pour half of the pasta mixture into the prepared pan. Top with half of the mozzarella and parmesan. Pour the other half of the pasta mixture on top of the cheese layer and smooth with a spoon. Top the pasta with the remaining mozzarella and parmesan. Bake for 25 minutes until bubbly. Makes 8 servings.