Tag Archives: baked pasta

Baked Chicken & Spinach Rigatoni – Really Great Dish! (Serves 6)

This was a great weekend dinner. I prepped it earlier in the day and then was free right up to dinner time to enjoy my busy weekend.

Baked Chicken & Spinach Rigatoni

Baked Chicken & Spinach Rigatoni

This dish  had everything needed in one big baked dish: protein, carbs, and greens. I made the bechamel-style sauce lighter by using more broth than milk and it really helped to eliminate that heavy feeling you have after eating a big bowl of pasta.

Think about making this next weekend!


You will need:

4 tbs unsalted butter

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

3 chicken fillet (4 if small), cut into small bite-sized pieces

10 oz mushrooms, sliced (about 3 cups sliced) – any mushroom: white, crimini, button

10 oz spinach, chopped

sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper (to season chicken)

3 tbs all-purpose flour

1 cup milk

2 cups chicken broth (or 2 cups water & 1 good quality bouillon cube)

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper flakes (chili flakes)

1 lb rigatoni pasta (I use Barilla brand)

1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (or another strong hard cheese of your choice: cheddar, Pecorino Romano)


Preheat oven 350*

Put the pasta water with plenty of salt and cook rigatoni according to instructions and rinse with cold water in colander. Set aside until ready to assemble dish.

1 – Season chicken with sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put large saute pan on medium/high heat and add 1 tbs of butter and 1 tbs olive oil. Saute the chicken pieces in batches until cooked. As you cook sprinkle a little of the chili flakes over the chicken. Do not crowd the pan or the chicken will just get steamed and watery. Chicken batches will take about 5 to 6 minutes each.  You will need to add more butter and oil as you go (only use 2 tablespoons of butter for this stage). Transfer to a plate as you go and cover with another plate or shallow bowl.

saute chicken

saute chicken

2 – Turn heat down to medium and add the rest of butter (2 tbs). Add the mushrooms and saute until nice and soft and starting to brown (about 10 minutes). Add  chopped spinach and cover pan with lid for 1 minutes. Take lid off and stir. Turn off heat.

saute mushrooms, add spinach

saute mushrooms, add spinach

3 – Add the flour and mix well. Cook for about 1 minute before adding the milk and the broth 1 cup at a time, mixing well in between each cupful. The sauce will begin to thicken. Stir and continue to cook for about 4 or 5 minutes while sauce simmers and thickens. Turn off heat and stir in any remaining pepper flakes. Taste sauce for the addition of salt and pepper.

make sauce

make sauce

Assemble dish: Spread 1/4 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a buttered casserole (lasagna dish). Add 1/2 of the rigatoni.

Assemble ingredients

Assemble ingredients

Add all of the chicken in an even layer followed by the mushroom and spinach mixture. Top with 1/2 of the remaining sauce.

sauce, pasta, chicken, veggies, sauce, pasta, sauce

sauce, pasta, chicken, veggies, sauce, pasta, sauce

Cover veggie and chicken layer with the rest of the pasta followed by the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.



Bake in preheated oven for about 35 minutes, covering 1/2 way through if top is browned.



Let dish sit for about 5 minutes before serving. Serve with more grated cheese if you like.

Baked Summer Pasta (serves 6)

Having to come up with a zillion ways to use the bounty of zucchini and squash at this time of year has given me a new appreciation of what people had to go through to preserve every last precious vegetable when they hadn’t the luxury of fridges, freezers and indeed supermarkets!  I have seen gardens where vegetables are rotting because the household cannot eat the amount of vegetables being produced. I can think of a few reasons why this happens; either they run out of ideas of what to do with their 20th squash or 40th tomato, don’t have the time to harvest and cook,  got swept away at the nursery or farmers market buying all sorts of plants on a whim rather than planning their garden, or, it doesn’t bother them because they just grew them for fun, not really caring about eating them or not.  This last reason has come about because we have been spoiled and there is no real guilt about throwing away food. I know countless people who, when they say they are going to clean their refrigerators really mean they are going to throw away food that they never got around to cooking, or, let the leftovers spoil!

another sumptuous dinner provided by local gardens and farms!

I am no saint, but wasting good food makes me feel completely irresponsible and fills me with guilt, as it should. Preserving things like food for future use is not on most people’s minds these days. After all, you can buy a tomato in the middle of winter (albeit a badly engineered one!), so why bother?

When you plant a garden, or get swept away by the choices at the Farmer’s market in the height of the growing season, the very least you can do is cook the thing. I am done listening to complaining children say “but we had green beans yesterday!” Kids need to be taught that food may be plentiful here in this country, but it should be treated with respect and cared for, not thrown away without a thought.

I never went hungry as a child but my parents taught me the value of food. Nothing was wasted and it is a lesson I thank them for daily. I try my very best to cook everything that I grow, I buy, or am given. I change leftovers into different dishes by adding something to it, or cooking it in a different way (ever fried leftover pasta and topped it with an egg for lunch!).

With that thought in mind, I felt challenged by the jumbo zucchini from my friend’s garden, and my relentless basil plants. I also had 3 or 4 tomatoes that I needed to use. The days are exceedingly hot (don’t get me started about the weather!) and I knew they wouldn’t last long. I never store tomatoes in the fridge, it does something awful to the flavor and texture. I came up with a great 1 dish meal that used all of them together beautifully. I based it in on the multitude of layered pasta dishes out there, and I was super happy with the results.

If you have some veggies you don’t know what to do with, before you throw them out, make this dish, or follow the general principles, and make up your own version. No one will be disappointed!

Hmmm…….now what do I make with 6 cucumbers?


You will need: 1 lb  sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces, 1 jumbo zucchini (or two normal-sized zucchini). sliced into thick coins, 3 tbs olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped, 20 basil leaves, 4 medium tomatoes, (great quality, if possible), sliced whole, 1 lb white cheese, grated (can be a strong or mild cheddar or a soft cow’s milk cheese like Farmer or Monterey jack), 1lb penne pasta ( I used a mini ridged pasta by Barilla), coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Preheat oven 350*

*Put a big pot (4 qt) filled with cold water on to boil for the pasta and cook according to instructions. Drain and rinse pasta in colander with plenty of cold water. Leave in colander and set aside until ready to assemble dish.

Fry zucchini coins

1 – Put saute pan on medium/high heat and add oil. Sprinkle zucchini with a little salt and pepper. When oil is hot, add the zucchini in a single layer and fry until starting to brown (a minute or so per side). Turn and repeat. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

fry garlic and sausages

2 – Turn heat down and add sausages to pan. Fry for 5 minutes and then add the garlic. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Assemble your dish.

3 – Lay a single layer of zucchini in the bottom of a 9×13″ baking dish. This should use up all of your zucchini. Next add 1/2 of the cooked penne, followed by 1/2 of the basil leaves. Top with 1/2 of the cheese.

Bake in oven.

4 – Lay all of the tomato slices over the cheese and season with a little salt and pepper, followed by the rest of the basil, and all of the sausage. Top with the last of the penne and then the cheese. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes or until everything turns a nice light golden brown.

Dinner for everyone!

To serve; let everyone help themselves (we certainly did!), or divide between warm plates or bowls.

Baked Shells with Sausage and Summer Greens (serves 6)

Last night I wanted to use a big portion of my greens from my CSA box from Good Work Farm (see top right of my blog for more information). I was craving greens, and, if it were totally up to me, I would have been very happy to simply saute them in some extra-virgin olive oil and garlic, and eat them with a poached egg and a slice of good bread.

Bunching Onions and Red Chard from my CSA box this week..

However, I live with people who also have a say in what we have for dinner. It is true that in the kitchen, I rule, and although sometimes I make exactly what I please, I generally concede when I am begged to do otherwise, or at least compromise. I suppose last night’s dinner could be called the greatest compromise. 

I got my wish for greens, my daughter, her request for creamy pasta, and my son was happy with anything which included sausage! (my man Dave is away for a few days so I didn’t have to include anything spicy on top of everything else!)

For dinner last night - Baked Shells with Sausage and Summer Greens

I loved the taste of the greens with the strong cheese, and, as I looked about me I felt I had satisfied everyone’s particular need for a certain craving. I also made enough for an army, so we had better be content to have the same thing for lunch today.


You will Need: 2 – 3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 1 lb seasoned sausage (your choice; sweet Italian or any herb or garlic infused variety), casing removed and torn into bite-sized bits, 3 bunching onions or 4 scallions, white and green parts, sliced, 1 bunch red chard (6-8 leaves), center rib removed and roughly chopped, 1 big bunch fresh spinach (6 cups approx), washed, 3 tbs unsalted butter, 3 tbs all-purpose flour, 3 cups milk (any %), 1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated, 1 lb pasta shells (I used large shells by Barilla), coarse salt (I used Maldon), freshly ground black pepper.

Preheat oven 375*

Put big pot of water on to boil for pasta shells. cook according to instructions. when cooked, drain, and rinse with cold water. Leave to drain until ready to assemble dish.

1 – In the meantime, put saute pan (at least 12″) on low/medium heat and add 2 tbs of oil. Add onions or scallions and cook for 7 minutes.

Saute Onions..

2 – Turn heat up to medium and add red chard. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Add spinach and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove all greens to a plate and set aside.

Add chard, then spinach

3 – Add last tbs of oil and add sausage. Saute until it has cooked; about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

cook sausage

4 – Turn heat down and add the butter. When it has melted, add the flour and whisk quickly until you have a smooth paste. Add the milk one cup ar a time and stir until the liquid is smooth.

melt butter for sauce

5 – Turn heat to medium and cook the sauce for about 10 minutes. Take off of heat and stir in the cheese. Taste sauce for addition of salt and pepper.

Add cheese..

Assemble the Dish in a casserole as follows:

A thin layer of sauce to coat the bottom of your casserole

Add 1/2 of the pasta shells

next, all of the sausage

followed by all of the greens

Spread 2/3 of the rest of the sauce over the greens

Top with the remainder of the shells and spread the last of the sauce, followed by several grinds of black pepper.

Cover with foil and bake for 35-40 minutes. Take out and let it sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Top with more cheese if you like