Pasta e Fagioli Bake

Last night the sound of air being let out of a giant balloon permeated the entire state of Indiana as we watched our beloved Hoosiers get blown out of the water by Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen. IU fans are deflated, our egos are bruised, we're disappointed. We're proud of our boys for coming so far, but we're so sad to see such a magical season come to a grinding halt.

We also all  hate NCAA refs because they're just terrible.

Who's going to console Hoosier Nation during its time of need? How will we be able to carry on?

I have the solution: Stuff your face with carbs!

Remember how I mentioned that I don't much care for pasta in my Things You Should Know About Me If We're Going to Be BFFs post? Well, that's still very much true, but I forgot to add another exception to that rule:

Olive Garden's Pasta e Fagioli soup! Anytime I go to Olive Garden for a meal, I pig out on bottomless bowls of this soup with their salad and breadsticks. It's one of my favorite "going out meals", so you can imagine my surprise when I bought a cookbook that had a similar recipe!

It's no secret that our Half-Priced Books Outlet stores is one of my favorite places on the planet and one of the reasons why I love it so much is that you can get cookbooks for dirt cheap. I know that you can do an internet search for 99.9% of recipes out there, but there really is something to be said for having a neat little collection of cookbooks and references on a shelf in your kitchen.

Unless your kitchen is the size of a shoe box and that shoe box was clearly for shoes that belonged to a toddler. In that case, you're forced to shove all of your cookbooks onto a small section of your microwave stand in the next room and they fall to the floor anytime a slight breeze rolls through.


Anyway, a few weeks before spring break, I purchased a Good Housekeeping cookbook from the outlet store called Budget Dinners: Quick & Easy Everyday Recipes.

I love this cookbook for two reasons:

1.) It was only $2.
2.) The recipes are set up in such a way that making one meal early in the week will yield enough leftovers to use for ANOTHER one of their recipes later. It's genius and it really does save money!

The first recipe I tried was Pasta e Fagiloi Bake and lemme tell ya, it was a home run (baseball pun intended)! The directions were super easy to follow and when all is said and done, the pasta bake is not the most unhealthy thing you've ever eaten. Tomatoes, beans, spinach? Yes, yes and yes!

What you will need:
  • 8 ounces penne or 8 ounces elbow macaroni (We used whole wheat penne.)
  • 1 (28 ounce) can tomatoes in puree (I bought a 16 oz. can of diced tomatoes plus one 8 oz. can of puree.)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (I omitted this because Clayton hates onions and I hate dragon breath.)
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed (I used 2 tsp of minced garlic.)
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans navy beans or 2 (15 ounce) cans white beans (I already had two cans of Great Northern beans in the pantry, so I just used those.)
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • black pepper, ground
  • 1 (10 ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1/2 cup Romano cheese, freshly grated (I bought a bag of Italian blend shredded cheese because Romano is pricey and Wal-Mart doesn't carry it. I should really stop grocery shopping at Wal-Mart.)
  1. Preheat oven to 400. Heat large covered sauce pot of water to boiling. Add pasta and cook 2 minutes less than label directions. Drain and reserve 1/4 cup cooking water. Return pasta to sauce pot.
  2. Meanwhile, drain tomatoes, reserving puree. Coarsely chop tomatoes. (Since I bought the diced tomatoes and puree separately. I omitted this step.)
  3. In 4-quart saucepan, heat oil over medium heat until hot. Add onion and celery and cook 9-10 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook 1 minute.
  4. Stir in tomatoes with puree, beans, broth and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and stir in spinach.
  5. Add bean mixture, pasta cooking water and 1/4 cup of Romano whatever cheese you choose to pasta in saucepot and toss until well mixed. Transfer pasta mixture to 3-quart glass or ceramic baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining Romano and bake 15 minutes or until center is hot and top is golden.

Note: Make sure your bag of frozen spinach is completely thawed and properly drained before using it. I totally forgot to pull our bag out of the freezer before starting the other steps and I had defrost it in the microwave. And I'm sorry, but uncooked frozen spinach skeeves me out. Draining it took forever and I had to squeeze and blot it with paper towels, getting icky green water everywhere. I may or may not have gagged a few times. 
Second note: I didn't use 1/4 cup of cheese. I used an entire cup ... like a boss. 

The baking directions are spot on and after only 15 minutes in the oven, the pasta bake came out perfectly golden brown on top. I served it immediately with a few slices of French bread with garlic butter (I know, I totally merged cultures on this dish).

Bonus? It makes for an amazing leftover the next day!

I hope everyone has a great weekend! Wish me luck on my final long run before my half marathon on April 6th!

Oh yeah, and Happy Easter! (I've got something especially yummy on deck for the holiday!)