After each of my babies was born, my friend Caitlin brought me a variation of this dish. As a result, this is a dish that reminds me of being loved and cared for. I remember every one of the meals that was brought to me when I had a newborn; the thoughtful gesture of bringing a new mother a meal makes such an impact. My first daughter was born two weeks early and I was not prepared for her arrival. If it weren’t for the care of friends, I might have subsisted solely on frozen pizza and our weekly raw goat milk allotment during my first few weeks of motherhood! Eating something homemade and fresh is really a highlight during those first days with a new one.
This particular dish is hearty and varied, with all kinds of goodness. Is there anything that smells better than mushrooms, onions, and garlic, sautéing all together? I love the juicy plumpness of the quartered baby bellas, with the green richness of the spinach, unified by sweet and tangy tomatoes. Generous portions of cheese and butter, with a crispy topping, make it an especially delightful meal.
This can be made with chicken or without, to keep it vegetarian. Also, this recipe makes a generous amount of food, but the leftovers reheat well. I actually set a portion aside, once it was assembled, and didn’t bake it, so that I can bake it fresh later in the week.
Strozzapreti Pasta Bake
Adapted from Spicy Baked Macaroni by Giada De Laurentiis
Yield: 8-10 servings
- ½-1 pound chicken breasts, cooked and shredded (optional)
- 1 pound Strozzapreti pasta or pasta of choice
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, quartered
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice
- 1 10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
- 12 ounce block mozzarella cheese, cubed
- 6 ounce package finely grated Mexican cheese, or melting cheese of your choice
- ½ cup bread crumbs (I used Original Panko)
- ¼ cup finely grated fresh Parmesan
- 4 tablespoons butter
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- If including chicken, preheat oven to 450°F. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Rub with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook on foil for 10 minutes on each side. Allow to cool. Shred into manageable pieces.
- Reduce oven heat to 350°F. Bring a large pot of well–salted water to boil. Cook pasta until al dente, 8-10 minutes. Drain.
- Butter a large baking dish and set aside.
- Sauté mushrooms, onions, and garlic in olive oil, until onions are soft and golden. Stir in tomatoes, spinach and nutmeg and cook until heated through.
- In a small bowl, mix together Parmesan and bread crumbs.
- In the pasta pot or a large bowl, combine the pasta, vegetables, cubed mozzarella and chicken. Transfer into the baking dish.
- Top with Mexican cheese blend. Then top with the Parmesan and bread crumbs. Dot generously with butter.
- Bake at 350°F until top is golden brown, 30-40 minutes. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, as desired.