This is the first in my series of Meatless Meals for the Fridays in Lent. There will be a new meatless main dish each Friday during Lent.
I originally saw this recipe on the Rachael Ray show. I have made a couple of minor changes to it (I don’t like canned tomatoes so I used a prepared tomato based pasta sauce instead) and it is a very quick and easy recipe to prepare. I made it the first time for myself and then again for my daughter and it is definitely on the family favourites list now!
1 lb. pasta (Rachael used ziti with lines – not sure why the lines matter – I use whatever pasta I have on hand or whatever is on sale. I have tried elbow macaroni and rigatoni so far and both worked very well for this.)
1 28 oz. can or jar of prepared pasta sauce (if you would like to make your own sauce using canned tomatoes, follow that link above to Rachael’s site to get her recipe for it). You can certainly use a bolognese sauce if you want to add meat to this recipe but each time I have made this, I have used a creamy rosee sauce. Any tomato based sauce will work well for it. This recipe is also delicious with some boneless cooked chicken breast cut up and added to it or some sliced pepperoni thrown in but honestly, my absolute preference is the meatless version. It’s just so smooth and creamy! A friend of mine tried this recipe and she threw some leftover (this IS a good one to make when you have some leftover meats to use up!) shrimp in it and she said it was very tasty. I’ll take her word for it – I’m allergic to shellfish!
basil, oregano, bay leaf, garlic, nutmeg (Notes: If you are using a prepared sauce with spices already in it, you may not need to add any more. This is all a matter of taste. With the rosee sauce I use, I like some additional spice, but I have found an additional way to add the spices to this dish – see below – so the only one I add is the nutmeg and I prefer to put it into the Bechamel sauce. You can also add salt and pepper to taste if you like but I never find it needs any. Some cracked black pepper might be a good addition to it but I find the cheese salty enough.)
3 T. butter
3 T. flour
2 cups milk
400 grams shredded mozzarella cheese (our store now carries a shredded mozzarella cheese that contains herbs and spices – basically the ones I listed above minus the nutmeg because it is marketed for using in Italian casseroles or as a topping for bread to make it into garlic cheese bread – this is what I use and why I don’t add additional spices because I find between the sauce and the cheese, it is the perfect balance for us)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional – one time I didn’t have any on hand and another I totally forgot to add it so I can attest to the fact that it’s really yummy even without the Parmesan!)
Instructions: Like I said, this is a super simple recipe and really quick to prepare. You can cut down on the prep time even further if you take some shortcuts like buying the already prepared pasta sauce and pregrated cheese. You need to cook the pasta to al dente according to the box instructions. While the pasta is cooking, I prepare the Bechamel sauce. Melt the butter over medium high heat and stir in the flour to make a roux. You want to stir this and heat it for about a minute to make it into smooth paste. Whisk in the milk and continue heating and stirring until it thickens up and you have a smooth white sauce. When the pasta is done, drain it and then toss it with the tomato based sauce in the pan it was cooked in until it is well coated. Dump the pasta into a baking dish or casserole pan (I spray it with Pam first). Pour the Bechamel sauce over the pasta and spread it out evenly. Sprinkle the cheeses over top and bake this in a 350 degree F oven for 20-30 minutes (Rachael says 400 degree F oven for 25-30 minutes but I found that was too much…at least for my oven!) As with all pasta casseroles like this (eg. lasagna), you should let it stand a few minutes before trying to cut and serve.
PS – leftovers are yummy too and this recipe freezes beautifully!