Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Baked Pasta Caprese with Chicken Sausage

If you are in my life and you've had a baby, there is a 96% chance you've already had this dish. Either this one or my other go-to, Kung Pao Chicken Tacos. This is by far our favorite travels-well-freezes-well-doubles-well-makes-ahead-well-everyone-likes-it dinner out there which makes it a perfect drop off dish when someone welcomes a new baby. I usually get asked for the recipe so I'll just cut corners here and put it out there on the Great Ol' Internet.

There was a season of my life back in college and then shortly thereafter when I was on a freezer meal kick. It all started when, as a poor nutrition student, I nabbed a job working for Dream Dinners in West Seattle. Does everyone remember this craze? People would book a session, sometimes even a group of people as a sort of a girls night, go into one of their stores, spend an hour or two throwing ingredients into disposable containers and then leave with 5-10 freezer meals to cook at a future date. It was super hip for awhile there and I just checked and it's still in business so people must still do it. It's a super awesome idea and there have been times where I have stocked my freezer with my own "Dream Dinners."

Anyway, back to my college days. I don't recall the exact chain of events but I sort of had an "in" (or at least I tell myself I did) as one of the founders of the company happened to be a dietitian. I pulled the whole I-Wanna-Be-Like-You card and landed a job working for them. It wasn't actually nearly as glamorous as I'd envisioned, but it looked good on my resume and, in retrospect, gave me some good insight on what types of dishes freeze well. Plus it paid well and helped me put away just enough savings to make it through my 9 month nutrition internship in Texas that followed graduation. I spent a lot of my college afternoons in the store, filling containers at each of the prepping stations with the needed ingredients for each of the recipes. One the participants arrived, I would stand awkwardly in the corner, available for any questions they might have or to refill anything that was running low. Then, when the night came to a close, I would toss unused ingredients and clean up shop for the next day.

This pasta dish never went through the rotation while I worked at the shop, but I stumbled upon it when I, as a dedicated employee, purchased the Dream Dinners cookbook. They call the recipe Summer Pasta, but I've since changed the name as I always felt a little silly telling someone who had just had a baby that I was bringing them "Summer Pasta." In December. Obviously, it's much more flavorful in the summer months when the basil and tomatoes are at their finest, but these days you can find those ingredients year round and I can vouch that it's still pretty tasty in the winter.

I've tweaked a few other items in the recipe and always use whole wheat penne instead of regular. I also like to add red pepper flakes for a little kick but if spicy isn't desired, leave them out and increase the black pepper to 1 tsp. You can mix up the flavors some by using different varieties of chicken sausage - Italian works great as does anything with sun-dried tomato.

 As written, the recipe makes a pretty large batch but I usually like to double it and then transfer the contents into three gallon-sized ziplocks as a double batch can easily be stretched to feed the family (depending on their size) for 3 meals. Correction. It feeds them for two meals because I keep one of the bags for us! ;) I've included instructions on how to eat the dish tonight, or how to freeze it and then bake it at a future date. So without further adieu...

Baked Pasta Caprese with Chicken Sausage
(adapted from Dream Dinners)

1 pound whole wheat penne
12 ounces precooked chicken sausage, sliced 1/4-inch thick
8 oz mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
8 ounces plum tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Heat a large pot of water to boiling and cook the pasta as directed to al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water to cool. Combine the remaining ingredients together in a large bowl and stir to mix. Add pasta and toss.

To serve tonight:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Pour pasta mixture into a 9 x 13 inch pan coated with cooking spray and cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated and the mozzarella is just starting to melt.

To freeze:
Pour combined pasta mixture into 1-2 gallon zip locks (depending on whether you want to have one big meal or stretch it to two) and freeze. Thaw in fridge 1-2 days before baking as directed above.

Serves 6

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posted by kelsie