Baked Pasta

~ This pasta dish has so many levels of flavor that it’s absolutely amazing ~

Is there anything more comforting than a bubbly, cheesy baked pasta dish?   While I’m sure there are many equals, they certainly have their place and the subject of today’s article was a head turner.  Declared a “do-over” by all who tasted it, what more validation does one need?

Good chefs, like writers and composers often borrow from other contemporaries for inspiration.  That’s exactly what I did in drawing on a friends post for this.  I’ve known Rolando for years and his Blog is entertaining:  Cooking From Books.   The only deviation was my addition of crumbled sausage.

Baked Pasta Sausage

~ The first step is to brown the crumbled sausage ~

Before I get into the details, let me just mention that when I read through this recipe, I was initially concerned about the inclusion of jalapeno and cumin in what was otherwise and Italian dish.  Let me assure you that they work.  They add wonderful complexity and depth of flavor so don’t surrender to any trepidation about using them.  With that said…

Baked Pasta with Spiced Butternut Squash & Sausage

1 pound Penne, Rigatoni or Cavatappi
1 pound crumbled Italian Sausage
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
¾ cup grated Parmesan
3 packed cups baby spinach
1 (8-ounce) ball fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size chunks
1 jalapeño, sliced into rounds including seeds
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Then, begin by browning the sausage thoroughly in a teaspoon of olive oil.  Once cooked, remove to a plate.   Then, add the diced squash, the cumin and the red pepper flakes.  Cook over medium heat until the squash begins to brown and starts to soften, about 6-10 minutes.

Baked Pasta Squash

~ This is the squash as soon as it went into the pot. There were a few scraps of sausage that got left in ~

Once the squash is tender, add the chicken stock, stir through and simmer.  Stir occasionally and simmer until the squash is tender and easily mashed, about 10-20 minutes.

Baked Pasta

~ Here the stock has been added and we are ready to simmer ~

Remove from heat and with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon, mash about half of the squash leaving the remainder chunky.   Once the squash is mashed, return the sausage to the pot and stir through.

Baked Pasta with Squash and Sausage

~ Here you can see the consistency of the mashed squash and the sausage has been added back into the pot ~

Cook the pasta until it is short of al dente.  It should be too firm to eat.  A rule of thumb is about 4 minutes less than the package instructions dictate.  Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and then drain.

Add the pasta to the pot along with the reserved cooking water and the parmigiano cheese and stir through.  Then add the spinach and stir through until it wilts.

Baked Pasta spinach

~ Here the pasta, cheese and water has been added and now we are stirring in the spinach ~

Once everything is combined, layer on the torn mozzarella and the jalapeno rounds.   Sprinkle with additional parmigiano.

Baked Pasta

~ This is the fully assembled dish just before going into the oven ~

Bake in the oven, uncovered, for 12-15 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly brown spots begin to appear.  Serve in warmed pasta bowls and sprinkle with fresh parsley if desired.

Baked Pasta

~ This is the dish straight out of the oven. The pasta was perfectly al dente and not mushy at all. The Jalapeno make for an enticing spice without being overbearing ~

I loved this dish and everyone else did too.  The cumin adds a depth of earthy flavor; the squash brings a hint of sweetness while being balanced by the savory sausage and saltiness of the cheese.  And… it’s pleasantly spicy.

~ Up close and personal with the Chef’s Plate ~

Do give this baked pasta dish a try.  I think you’ll be very glad you did.  Also, don’t forget to see my other great pasta and risotto recipes here:  More Recipes.


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