Spicy Pasta Bake

We’re one week into 2012 and therefore one week removed from the holiday season.  As much as The Spatularettes love the holidays, our bank accounts sure don’t!  All the shopping, traveling, parties and fun were great, but EXPENSIVE!  We’re sure we weren’t the only ones who shuddered while opening the December credit card bill.  As we recover from the holidays, we thought it would be fun to feature some delicious, but budget friendly meals over the next couple of weeks.  These dishes will fill you up, but won’t break the bank to make!  It doesn’t get any better than that!
This Spicy Pasta Bake is what we like to refer to as a pantry meal.  The list of ingredients seems long at first glance, but most of these items are already on your shelves or in your refrigerator!  We had to pick up the sausage and a couple of veggies, but the rest of the ingredients were already on our pantry shelves.

Ingredients:
-1/2 pound rotini (or other hearty bite sized pasta)
-1 Tbs olive oil

-1/2 pound hot Italian sausage, casing removed
-1 1/2 zucchini, quartered and sliced

-1 medium yellow onion, diced

-2 cloves garlic minced

-Splash of white wine

-1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
-1 8 oz can tomato sauce

-1/2 c half and half

-1/4 c shredded Parmesan cheese
-1 1/2 tsp salt

-1 Tbs dried Italian herbs

-1 1/2 c shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Boil a pot of salted water and cook pasta al dente, which should take about 8 minutes.  Be sure to not over cook the pasta when boiling because it will continue to cook later in the oven.  Once pasta is cooked, drain and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, brown Italian sausage in 1 Tbs of olive oil.  Use the back of a wooden spoon to break up sausage as it cooks.  Once sausage is almost cooked through, add zucchini and continue to cook for another 4 or 5 minutes.  The zucchini doesn’t need to be cooked the whole way through, just enough to soften it.  Remove sausage and zucchini from pan and set aside. 

In the same pan, add a little more olive oil along with the onions and garlic.  Cook for about 5 minutes, just long enough for the onions to begin to soften.  If you have it handy, use a splash of wine to deglaze the pan and scrape up the little brown bits.  We had some wine left over from New Years Eve, but since we are cooking on a budget here, I wouldn’t suggest opening a new bottle for this step.  (You can deglaze the plan with some broth or the juice of the tomatoes just as easily.)  Once the wine has cooked down, add the diced tomatoes (juices and all) and the tomato sauce.  Add salt and Italian seasonings and stir to combine.  Allow sauce to simmer for about ten minutes so onions can finish cooking through.

While the tomatoes are simmering, heat the half and half (or whatever you already have around the house–if you use cream or whole milk for your coffee, that will work fine as well!) in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Once it begins to steam (but before it boils) add the Parmesan cheese all at once and stir to melt cheese into the half and half.  Pour the cream and cheese mixture into the tomato sauce and stir to combine.  Allow to simmer for another 5-10 minutes so flavors can combine.  Finally add sausage, zucchini, and pasta to sauce and gently toss so pasta is evenly coated.

Pour half of the pasta mixture into a large casserole dish.  Top with a half cup of shredded mozzarella cheese.  Pour remaining pasta over cheese and top with one cup of mozzarella cheese.  Cover and bake for 25 minutes.  Uncover casserole dish and allow to bake for another 5 minutes.
Budget food doesn’t mean boring food!!
XOXO,
Tall and Small
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