Vodka Penne Bake with Spinach and Broccoli

As you all know by now, I really like recipes that are easily adaptable to fit your individual likes/dislikes, and this pasta bake is no exception. You can sub out the type of sauce, noodle, cheese, or veggies easily and get a totally new taste. For this one I stuck with pretty basic ingredients since I was making it for book club and couldn’t remember if anyone had particular vegetables that they liked or didn’t like. The one major change I made was using gluten-free pasta. If I were making this for myself, I would likely switch out the broccoli for some mushrooms and sub half of the mozzarella cheese with feta cheese, and use marina instead of vodka sauce. Or, keep the broccoli, add mushrooms, and add gorgonzola. Or, asparagus and goat cheese. Really, the list could go on. Let’s at least start somewhere though, okay?

First, bake one pound of penne noodles in salted boiling water for about 2 minutes less than the package says, and drain. Play with the different types of noodles, but I at least recommend using one that has something the sauce can pool in or grab onto.

Separately, mix together one large tub of ricotta (I used a 15 oz one from TJ’s), one egg, 1 teaspoon each of salt, Italian seasoning, and garlic (less if you want), 1/2 teaspoon of cracked black pepper and 8 ounces thawed and drained chopped spinach.

Spread 1/3 of the vodka (or marinara) sauce* in a 9×13 inch casserole dish. Top with half of the noodles, then half of the ricotta mixture. Spread ricotta mixture out with a spoon the best that you can, and top with half of the chopped broccoli. For this I used about 1 medium size head of broccoli, cut into small florets. Sprinkle on 1 cup of mozzarella cheese.

*It’s at this point that I must admit something, and I hope you’ll forgive me. I, Rachael, used jarred pasta sauce. I just wanted it to be easy, alright? Listen, it still tasted great and no one will be the wiser, except for the people in the club that actually read the blog, which I think is only one. So, I’m safe.

Repeat layers. So you should have the following layers when you’re through (please note, I switched the sauce/cheese at the end so I could broil the top):

  • 1/3 of pasta sauce
  • 1/2 noodles
  • 1/2 ricotta mixture
  • 1/2 broccoli
  • 1.5 cups cheese
  • 1/3 sauce
  • other half noodles
  • other half ricotta mixture
  • other half broccoli
  • remaining 1/3 of sauce
  • 1.5 cups of cheese

DSC03354

Sprinkle the top with some more Italian seasoning and bake in a pre-heated oven at 375 for 35-45 minutes, or until nice and bubbly. Broil on high until desired brown-ness on top (sorry, I couldn’t think of a less awkward way to say that).

For this cat fact, be prepared to open your eyes to a whole new world of cats. I discovered (on Pinterest, natch), that there is a breed of cat called a Sand Cat. They are freaking adorable and I want one in my life. Unfortunately, according to Wikipedia, they wouldn’t do well in the DC climate. And I’m willing to bet Charlie wouldn’t do well in the desert, so we’re kind of at a standstill until I figure this one out. I’ll keep you posted. For now, here’s the pasta bake recipe:

Vodka Penne Bake with Spinach and Broccoli

Ingredients

Change up the type of pasta, the sauce, the cheeses, and even the veggies, for a completely customizable meal.

1 lb of penne pasta
1 large jar of vodka pasta sauce, or homemade, about 24-25 ounces
8 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and completely drained
1 medium head of broccoli, cut into small florets
3 cups of mozzarella or Italian blend cheese
1 teaspoon each salt and garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning, divided
15 ounces ricotta cheese
1 egg

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Boil pasta in a large pot of salted water, draining 2 minutes before the directions on the package say to.

2. In a small bowl, mix together ricotta, salt, pepper, 1 teaspoon of Italian seasonings, garlic powder, egg, and spinach. Set aside.

3. Spread the following layers into the pan:

  • 1/3 of pasta sauce
  • 1/2 noodles
  • 1/2 ricotta mixture
  • 1/2 broccoli
  • 1.5 cups cheese
  • 1/3 sauce
  • other half noodles
  • other half ricotta mixture
  • other half broccoli
  • remaining 1/3 of sauce
  • 1.5 cups of cheese

4. Sprinkle with other teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Bake in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes, or until bubbly. Turn broil on high until cheese is broiled to your liking. Let cool for 10 minutes and enjoy!

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