Sausage with Baked Penne in Spinach Bechamel

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4 servings (plus leftovers on casserole)

1 lb whole wheat penne
5 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup flour
2 cups low fat milk (or more if needed)
4 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
8 oz. Shredded mozzarella cheese
6 oz. Shredded Parmesan cheese
1 jar basic pasta sauce (Whole Foods 365 brand recommended), divided per below
1 jar sundried tomatoes in oil, coarsely chopped.
2 oz basil leaves, minced
5 oz fresh spinach leaves
1/4 tsp crushed pepper flakes
1/4 tsp oregano

4 large links of Italian Sausage (chicken or pork) – about 1 1/4 lb. I used two of each.

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 10×13 casserole with olive oil.

Bring to boil 6 qts of salted water in a large pasta pot.

Heat 4 tbsp EVOO in deep saucepan. Add 1/4 cup flour and stir almost constantly, cooking for about 5 minutes until roux begins to darken slightly. Do not let flour burn. add 2 cups of milk very gradually, whisking constantly. [around this time, drop your pasta in the boiling water]. To the white sauce, add crushed garlic. Add 6 oz of the shredded mozzarella and 4 oz of the Parmesan, whisking to keep smooth. Add 1 cup of tomato sauce. Add chopped sundried tomatoes, chopped basil and whole leaf spinach. Add more milk if required, to get smooth consistency (I added almost another cup). Stir to wilt. Add crushed pepper and oregano. You may add other Italian seasonings to taste, but if your pasta sauce is good, you won’t need to.

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Drain pasta, and pour into sauce. Stir to coat. Pour into oiled casserole dish. Top with 2 oz mozzarella and 2 oz Parmesan. Bake for 30 min. At 350. While the pasta is baking, brown the sausage (whole links) in 1 tbsp of EVOO, being careful not to burn. Watch out for splatter. I covered this pan. Rotate the sausage 3 times to get evenly browned, about 8 minutes. Slice the sausage into 1″ chunks, return to pan, add 3 cups (rest of jar) of pasta sauce. Bring sauce to simmer, lower heat, cover and heat through, about 10 more minutes. Turn off heat and leave covered.

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Remove casserole from oven, and let rest for 3-5 minutes. Serve wedge with about 8 pcs of sausage (equivalent to one large sausage per person), and ladle a bit of the sauce over the pasta. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Mangia!

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