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Spinach Pasta Bake! 29Jul09

Spinach Pasta Bake!

YAY! This is Vanilla Latte’s 100th post! Well to be specific, this is Vanilla Latte now as a food and travel blog’s 100th post, I deleted the ones that were irrelevant from 5 years ago. So for such a celebration, I would like to share one of my favorite mac and cheese recipes. Now this isn’t the one I normally make for dinner parties that involve 5 cheeses, that one will have to wait. This version is an attempt to be slightly healthier… I threw in spinach! :) Okay it’s not that good for you. Anything that starts as a roux and involves adding milk and cheese always ends with ooey gooey goodness that can’t be that good for you.  Ah well, that’s why it’s a celebration!

I’ve used low fat milk, low fat cheese, and spinach. Little ways to make sure this delicious dish won’t cause a heart attack. But feel free to live on the edge, use full fat milk and cheeses! MAN my mouth is watering as I’m writing this. So delicious and easy to make. And really good leftovers with a splash of Tabasco. Hope you like it!

Ingredients:
1 lb of pasta (I like Maccheroncelli because they look like Kraft Mac n Cheese shapes)
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
pinch of sea salt
6-8 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves only
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
pinch dried oregano
4-6 tablespoons of butter or margarine
1/4 cup of all purpose flour
2 cups of low fat milk
1 1/2 cups of grated reduced fat cheddar cheese
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of chili powder
pinch of paprika
pinch of ground white pepper
1 cup of cooked spinach leaves, chopped
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
fresh ground pepper
fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 400°F or 200°C.

Step 1: Pasta and tomatoes!
In a large pot bring some water to boil and throw in your pasta. Sprinkle in a couple pinches of sea salt and drizzle a little dash of extra virgin olive oil. Cook until pasta is just about to be al dente… don’t over cook! It’ll cook more in the oven! While the pasta is boiling away, slice your tomatoes in half, sprinkle with a little bit of fresh ground pepper and sea salt. Slight drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and pop in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, until slightly bubbly but not yet falling apart. When the tomatoes are done, take them out of the oven and set aside. When the pasta is ready, drain and set aside.

Step 2: The onions!
In a small saucepan, melt about 2 tablespoons of butter or margarine. Throw in the onions and garlic and bring the heat to medium low. Let that sweat for about 5 minutes. Now add in the thyme leaves, dried oregano, and red chili flakes. Cook that down for another 10 minutes over medium low heat. Set aside for later.

Step 3: The sauce!
Okay, now for the fun part. In a large pot, you can use the one you cooked the pasta in if you want, melt about 3 tablespoons of butter. When melted, whisk in the flour. If you need a bit more butter, add another tablespoon. It should be like a slurry. Once it starts to bubble a bit, slowly pour in the milk, whisking along the way. Bring that up to a simmer and keep whisking. You will see it get thicker as you’re whisking. Now toss in the nutmeg, chili powder, and paprika. Whisk whisk whisk. Now add in your grated cheddar cheese and let that melt away while you whisk some more. You should have a nice white sauce by now. Taste and see if you need to add any more heat. Now stir in the onion mixture cooked from before. Then add in the drained cooked chopped spinach, mix until combined. Now pour in the pasta cooked from before and mix!

In a large baking dish, scoop in the pasta mixture until it fills about halfway. Now line the dish with a layer of roasted cherry tomatoes, save a few to garnish at the end. Pour the rest of the pasta on top. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top and pop in the oven for 35 minutes. Your house will start smelling like pizza, the dish will be golden brown on top and bubbly on the sides. Garnish with some fresh basil leaves and a few more of those roasted tomatoes!

YUM! Ooey gooey goodness! I’ve been obsessed with the Chipotle Tabasco lately and it’s fabulous with this dish! That added smokey heat goes really well with the richness of the dish. I can’t wait to make this again! Hope you like it!

Spinach Pasta Bake!

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