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Friday, July 5, 2013

Cheesy Pasta Bake

Cheesy Pasta BakePasta used to be a main staple in our household. And then it wasn't. I'm not entirely sure what happened. But the other night we had baked pasta. God do I ever miss that. The cheesy oozy goodness is just to DIE FOR! Disclaimer: I didn't have enough cheese at home - just a little less than 2 cups. That's why the picture doesn't show all the ooey gooey goodness of some baked melty cheese.

I used to use ricotta but about 2 years ago, I decided to sub ricotta for cottage for more protein. It makes me feel better (read: healthier) when I have so much cheese everywhere. :P

Have I ever told you how much I love my dutch oven? I love it. I love it a lot. I don't even use oil when I brown meat anymore because it doesn't even stick! And I'm going to use some sort of liquid to deglaze anyway, so there's really very little point to add it. :D


Cheesy Pasta Bake
(serves 6-8)

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 - 2 lbs lean ground beef (or a little under 1 lb of each lean ground beef and lean ground pork)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped 
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1/2 tsp red chili flakes 
  • 1 Tbsp dried Italian herbs 
  • 3 bay leaves 
  • 1 796ml (28oz) can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 can water
  • 1 500g tub of cottage cheese
  • 3 cups grated cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 lb uncooked short pasta (eg., penne, rotini, bowtie, etc.)
  • 1 pkg of frozen chopped spinach, defrosted & drained (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Heat up the oil (optional) in a large dutch oven or pot on medium high heat. Brown the meat. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Once the meat is almost all browned, add onions. Cook until translucent. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant. Stir in chili flakes, Italian herbs and bay leaves.
  4. Pour in the can of crushed tomatoes. Fill the can halfway with water and add to the sauce. Stir to combine and lower heat to simmer for 10 minutes, covered.
  5. In the meantime, combine the cottage cheese, 2 cups of cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese and spinach (optional) in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the pasta until all the pasta pieces are coated with the cheese mixture.
  6. Ladle half of sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 pan. Pour the pasta and cheese mixture over the sauce, spreading it out evenly. Ladle remaining sauce over the pasta, making sure that the tops are all coated with sauce. Sprinkle on the remaining cheddar cheese and then top with the remaining Parmesan cheese.
  7. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45-60 minutes, or until everything is all bubbly and gooey.
  8. Serve with a side of garlic toast and a side salad.

I'm not sure about anyone else, but I always oil the side of the aluminum foil that's going to touch the cheese. This ensures that I won't lose most of it to the foil. Sometimes it gets the dish's handles all oily but MEH! It saves that precious cheese! :D

The pasta will cook with all the steam and extra water we put into the sauce. I wouldn't worry. This is how I make all my baked pastas because I'm too lazy to cook the pasta first. I mean...it'd mean I have more things to wash and I'd have to spend more time in front of the stove. Now who would wanna do that? Right? Not me, that's for sure! :P

Update: I froze half of this in the freezer the last time I made it and then baked it from frozen. Make sure you bake it for an extra half hour or your pasta will only be half baked.