This idea started a few months ago, when going thru my daily fix of Serious Eats I found a Talk Thread about mac and cheese recipes where you didn’t need to boil the pasta ahead of time. Based on that thread, that same day I made my Easiest Baked Pasta Ever!!!! Recipe post.
Inspired by the concept, I decided to give it a twist. My friend Ana asked me to bring something to her daughter’s graduation family get-together a few weeks ago, because I would not be able to enjoy most of what she had ordered thru a caterer. Wanting to show-off my skills with the audience, I created this recipe. I am bold (sorry for all the modesty) because I had the guts to make a recipe for the first time for 12 people.
Thanks to all my prayers after the thought came to my mind of how scary it would be to screw this up… the recipe turned out great. I actually learned a few cool tricks that I may incorporate into new recipe creations. This pasta is super easy… just throw all the ingredients together in a casserole dish and voila! The pasta is ready. No need to even stir the pasta at all… what could be simpler???
NO BOIL-AHEAD PASTA – SPINACH AND TOMATO VERSION
2 cups whole wheat pasta – macaroni, penne or rigatoni would all work well 3 tbs melted butter or olive oil 2 cups white cheddar cheese, shredded – I used a whole bar Cabot’s Hunter’s Dangerously Sharp variety 4 oz Fontina cheese, shredded 4 oz cream cheese 3 ¾ to a 4 cups of milk 1 tsp mustard 1 cup spinach – you can use fresh or frozen ½ cup chopped tomatoes Salt and Pepper to taste
- Pre-heat oven to 350° F.
- In a large casserole dish, about 9″ x 13″, toss the pasta and the melted butter or olive oil, whichever you’re using. Spread the pasta as evenly as possible to allow for even cooking.
- Now, without stirring anything sprinkle the cheddar and Fontina cheeses on top of the pasta. Add the spinach and the chopped tomatoes as evenly as possible over the cheese. Add the cream cheese in small pieces on top of the spinach and tomatoes.
- Mix together the milk and mustard and pour carefully over the whole thing. Try not to displace the pasta a lot. The idea is that now the pasta is all enveloped in the milk and this makes the cheese kind of mix a bit with the pasta.
- Place in oven for about 45-55 minutes until golden brown on top.
- Allow the pasta to cool off a bit before serving it.
People loved the mini pieces of cream cheese… because we placed them kind of last, the cream cheese melts a bit, but does not disappear within the sauce. Instead, they stay on to like soft pillows of cheesy goodness. Everybody had something to say about the cream cheese bits… specially my mom and Ana.
I hope this inspires you to be brave and to try new dishes on people even if you’ve never done them before. My advice… start small and this pasta is easy enough to be a sure hit.
Some of you noticed the aluminum tray the pasta is in. So, just for clarity and transparency purposes…
I cooked the actual pasta in a glass Pyrex casserole 9″ x 13″ dish. Because this pasta was to be consumed in the home of my friend Ana, whom I love dearly as if she were my own sister but who is undoubtedly a meat eater, and I didn’t want my Pyrex dish, that has never ever been touched by a non-vegetarian utensil to be forever ruined by someone, that even though, very well intentioned, might try to serve themselves with the same serving spoon as the other meat dishes there or wash it with the same rag as the other meat-including trays. For that reason, I transferred the pasta when it was cooled off, into this disposable aluminum tray. Aluminum is not my favorite, but is what’s most accessible at the grocery store and I am sure the majority of the people who consumed it didn’t even care. I must say I was EXTREMELY LUCKY I was able to transfer it in one piece preserving the look and appetite appeal of the dish. The photo was taken by friend Ana at her home, with her camera, as I forgot completely to take a picture while at home in the original glass dish.
I hope this clears out any confusion…