There is a fabulous local Italian restaurant and bar that is pretty much our home away from home. The food is delicious, each dish made individually. They don’t even have a microwave. And the bar/lounge area is our version of Cheers – “where everybody knows your name”. When the bartenders are all on your Facebook friends list, there’s a good chance you spend a lot of time there. 😉
Anyway, one of my favorite dishes on their menu is something called “Penne Mediterranean”. It’s a rich, creamy pasta dish with sun dried tomatoes and spinach. And quite spicy. Yum! Someday I’ll talk someone into giving me the recipe but in the meantime I’ve come up with something close enough to tide me over between visits to the restaurant. I rather hesitate to even explain how I make this because it’s so very vague. If you are an experienced, intuitive cook, give it a whirl.
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First off, I should tell you that I didn’t actually have any penne pasta in the pantry today so I substituted rotini. I like the look of penne and the way the sauce fills the little tubes of pasta but it all honesty, it really doesn’t matter. So, here goes:
Start with a couple of tablespoons of butter (remember, in Dee’s kitchen we do NOT use that margarine crap) in a large skillet. Melt over medium high heat and as soon as it is sizzling, add some finely diced onion. How much? Whatever floats your boat. I used about 2 tablespoons worth, I would guess. Stir it around a bit and add some seasonings. I used basil, lemon pepper, garlic salt, black pepper and (you know what’s coming) Creole seasoning.
I like to add seasonings at this point and then adjust according to taste later on. Stir a bit then add half and half, heavy cream and/or milk. It’s like making alfredo sauce. It’s super yummy with all cream but also VERY rich. I use mostly half and half, a little cream and then milk to obtain the quantity needed. I also added about 3-4 tablespoons of cream cheese because I had some that needed to be used. Cream cheese will thicken up a thinner sauce if you use a larger proportion of milk rather than cream. Simmer the sauce slowly, stirring often, until it starts to thicken up. Oh, I should have mentioned that all the while this sauce-making is going on, you should be bringing a big pot of water to a boil for the pasta.
When the sauce is almost thick enough, taste and adjust the seasonings. I like it spicy so I always end up adding more Creole seasoning (you can use a pinch of cayenne pepper if you don’t have Creole seasoning but put it on your next shopping list – it’s a MUST in my kitchen). Then add some chopped sun-dried tomatoes and frozen spinach. How much? That’s up to you. Hey, this is food, not chemistry class.
Meanwhile, drain the cooked (al dente, please) pasta and make sure the oven is cranked up to 400 degrees. As soon as the frozen spinach is no longer frozen and the tomatoes have softened up a bit, mix the sauce mixture with the hot, cooked pasta and pour into an oven-safe casserole dish. Top with grated cheese. Use what you like and what you have on hand. Tonight I used a combination of Jarlsburg, raw-milk cheddar and some kind of spicy pepper cheese I bought at a health food store. If you are buying cheese specifically for this dish, I’d probably go with a combination of jack and mozzarella. Put a nice, thick layer on top of the casserole. I also topped that with some Panko bread crumbs but that’s totally optional. Oh, I also used some Parmesan with the other cheeses. Then sprinkle the top with paprika and black pepper, put in the hot oven and cook until hot and bubbly, the cheese is melted and the bread crumbs lightly browned.
Serve with garlic bread and a green salad.
*Note: I would normally use some fresh garlic in this just after adding the onion but the truth of the matter is, I was lazy tonight and didn’t chop any. I just used more garlic salt. It really is better with the garlic so if you try this, don’t be lazy like me.
This has been on my wishlist for ages:
Originally posted on my old blog, Dee’s Kitchen, January 7, 2010
I’m going through recipes from my old blog and reposting them. One of these days I may update the photos and recipe formatting. Or maybe not.