Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mix and Match Baked Pasta Casseroles

If your household is anything like mine, then you know that a lot of the times, the amount of variety in the pantry is pretty ... lacking. My goal on a regular basis is to use all that we have, but try to do something different with it ... Mix and Match!! Well, after this idea came to me, I decided to look for some recipe ideas that would enable me to use some of my favorite ingredients to create a dish! I found an article on that had a pretty detailed method with which you can created HUNDREDS of different varieties using some of the same ingredients, by making only a few changes! ... SO, I present to you, Mix & Match Baked Pastas Casseroles!

Here's their step-by-step guide on how to construct your perfect plate!

1. Pick a Pasta

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; cook 1 pound of pasta (choose from these) until very al dente, 2 or 3 minutes less than the label directs; drain.

* Farfalle
* Cavatappi
* Fusilli
* Rigatoni
* Penne
* Ziti
* Large shells

Note: Be sure to undercook the pasta for your casserole; it will soften in the oven.

2. Make the Sauce

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 4 sliced garlic cloves and a pinch of red pepper flakes; cook until the garlic is golden. Crush a 28-ounce can and a 15-ounce can of plum tomatoes into the skillet with your hands; rinse out each can with 1/2 cup water and add the water to the skillet. Add 4 large basil sprigs; simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened, 15 minutes. Discard the basil; season the sauce with salt. (Alternatively, heat 4 cups prepared tomato sauce.)

3. Choose Your Mix-ins

While the sauce simmers, prepare 3 cups meat and/or vegetables (in any combination).

* Italian sausage, crumbled and cooked
* Meatballs, cooked and quartered
* Pepperoni, chopped
* Rotisserie chicken, shredded
* Hard-boiled eggs, chopped
* Roasted red peppers, sliced
* Frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and chopped
* Zucchini, sliced and sautéed
* Mushrooms, sliced and sautéed
* Eggplant, sliced and sautéed
* Fennel, sliced and sautéed
* Spinach, chopped and sautéed
* Escarole, chopped and sautéed
* Black or green pitted olives, chopped

4. Flavor the Sauce

Stir one of the following ingredients into your sauce, then add your meat and/or vegetable mix-ins.

For herb sauce:
1 cup each chopped basil and parsley

For creamy sauce:
1 cup fresh ricotta

For meat sauce:
3/4 pound pancetta, diced and browned

5. Pick Your Cheese

Prepare 3 cups melting cheese and 1 cup grating cheese.

Melting Cheese
* Fresh mozzarella, cubed
* Mild provolone, shredded
* Italian fontina, shredded
* Young asiago, shredded

Grating Cheese
* Parmesan, grated
* Pecorino, grated
* Ricotta salata, grated

6. Bake the Casserole

Toss the cooked pasta with the sauce and half of each cheese. Spread in an oiled 3-to-4-quart baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the pasta. Bake, uncovered, until browned, about 15 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

From these ingredients, I'm pretty sure you can come up with your own version with whatever appeals to you, but if you're having a difficult time choosing which ingredients to combine first, I found three recipes you can try out:

1) Baked Cavatappi With Artichokes and Fennel

2) Baked Farfalle with Escarole and Zucchini

3) Baked Rigatoni with Meatballs and Peppers

Let me know what you think of this idea and if you have any other mix-and-match ideas!

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