Italian Flag Baked Pasta
October 18, 2018
I’m not sure why a baked ziti (which is what this is) feels so much easier to make than a lasagna. It’s not particularly different. Still, it feels a lot easier and there’s something to be said for perceived ease. If you’re looking for the ultimate comfort of lasagna and perceived ease, this is your dish!
This recipe was a huge hit with my kids. They asked me if I would make it every night. Something tells me they’d get sick of it. 😉 Still, their reaction tells you what a crowd pleaser it is and it has spinach in it. Win/win.
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb ground dark-meat turkey
freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
One 28oz can crushed tomatoes
3 leafy fresh basil sprigs, tough stems reserved and leaves roughly chopped
1 lb short, ridged pasta (whatever type you like)
Two 10-oz packages frozen spinach, defrosted, squeezed dry, and roughly chopped
1 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup coarsely grated mozzarella cheese
Preheat your oven to 400F.
Get a large pot of water going on the stove top for your pasta. If it boils before you’re ready to cook the pasta, just turn it down (better for it to wait for you than vice versa).
In a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Break up the turkey into small pieces, add it to the pot, and season aggressively with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring every now and then, until the meat is cooked through and very nicely browned and any liquid it released has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic, tomatoes (along with their juice), basil stems, and another large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Give the whole mixture a good stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook the sauce until it is slightly reduced and smells wonderful, about 20 minutes. Remove and discard the basil stems. Turn off the heat and set the sauce aside.
At this point, your pasta water should be boiling. Salt it generously and add the pasta. Cook it until just al dente (remember it will bake for a while), about 1 minute less than the package instructs. Drain the pasta, add it to the pot with the tomato sauce, and stir well to combine.
While the pasta is cooking, put the spinach, creme fraiche, nutmeg, Parmesan, half of the mozzarella, and the chopped basil leaves into a large bowl. Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt and stir well to combine.
Spoon one-third of the sauced pasta into a 9-by-13-in baking dish and spread into an even layer. Dot the pasta with half of the spinach mixture and use a spoon or even just your clean hands to spread the spinach mixture in an even layer. Continue with half of the remaining pasta, all of the remaining spinach mixture, and then the final bit of pasta. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella on top.
Bake the pasta, uncovered, until it is gorgeously browned and the edges are bubbling, about 30 minutes. Let it rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before serving. This resting time lets everything settle into place.