I think everyone has a different definition of what comfort food is. Some people feel cozy after a giant order of Chinese food. Others might want their Mom’s pot roast. And still others might prefer a sundae from their favorite ice cream shop. I get it, we all have our own thang, and that’s cool. But that all being said, I have to believe that there is a large chunk of us that want the exact same thing out of our comfort food—warm, cheesy, gooey pasta. Ya with me?
I just, can’t imagine food more comforting than a big bowl of gooey, warm pasta. I’ve heard there are people out there that don’t like pasta, but I’ve never met one in real life, and I’m not sure I actually want to, either.
Does. Not. Compute.
I do think that, pretty universally, comfort food solidly falls into the “not-so-healthy” category. There is something about the decadence that makes the whole world seem shinier and happier. I know emotional eating gets a bad rap, but if a reasonable-sized serving of macaroni and cheese can make a crappy day feel better? I’m all for it.
And the truth is, as varied and drastic as folks’ comfort food of choice is, I highly doubt anyone will ever say, “Oh my gosh, I had the worst day ever, I really wish I could have a big garden salad, that’d make me feel so much better.”
And if they do, they’re lying. No one has ever been comforted by bowlful of romaine.
But I think there is a way to make comfort food healthier. Take this cheesy, gooey pasta bake for instance. Whole wheat pasta mixed with four cups of fresh spinach is slathered in a silky parmesan cream sauce. To add more flavor, I used Italian chicken sausages and sundried tomatoes. This is how you do comfort food healthy!
Next time you find yourself in need of some comfort, maybe try your hand at this cheesy bake.
Cheesy Baked Penne with Spinach and Italian Sausage
Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Cheesy, creamy and full-of-flavor, this pasta casserole bake is classic comfort food turned healthy!
1 pound whole wheat penne
4 cups fresh baby spinach
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pinch of red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups skim milk
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup sundried tomatoes, diced
1 12-ounce package Italian chicken or turkey sausage, cut into thin coins
Preheat oven to 350°.
Cook penne according to package directions in a large stock pot, drain and return to stock pot. Mix in spinach and set aside. The steam from the pasta will begin to wilt the spinach.
In the mean time, in a dutch oven or large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add in red pepper flakes and garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes until fragrant. Add in onion and green pepper and cook for 7-8 minutes or until tender.
Add in butter, oregano, salt and pepper. Once butter is melted, whisk in flour and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then whisk in milk until well-combined. Continue to cook, whisking frequently, until sauce has thickened. Remove from heat and stir in parmesan and 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese. Add in sundried tomatoes and sausage coins.
Mix together the sauce mixture with the pasta and spinach mixture. Pour into a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Sprinkle top with remaining mozzarella cheese. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until cheese is brown and sauce is bubbly.
At Wholefully, we believe that good nutrition is about much more than just the numbers on the nutrition facts panel. Please use the above information as only a small part of what helps you decide what foods are nourishing for you.
Cassie is a holistic nutritionist, cookbook author, and all-around food lover. She grew up cooking dinner with her parents every evening, and her passion for home cooking has been strong ever since. Cassie is the author of two published cookbooks (Cooking with Greek Yogurt and Chia, Quinoa, Kale, Oh My!) and dozens of recipes published in major magazines and newspapers. Cassie has been sharing her award-winning recipes on Wholefully since 2010. She loves dark chocolate, homegrown tomatoes, motorsports, and anything that sparkles. She lives in Indiana with her family on a small homestead.
You didn’t say whether you cook the sausage first or it will bake in the oven? I’m not using precooked sausage
If it’s not precooked, I’d just saute it in a frying pan before mixing it in. 🙂
Ooh also, could you make this in advance and just stick it in the oven or would the spinach get funky?
I think the spinach would be fine. It’ll wilt a bit more, but it shouldn’t mess with the taste.
Do you need to cook the sausage before adding it to the casserole? Looks delicious.
Most chicken sausages come pre-cooked, so no need!
Yay another trader joes junkie!!! I’ll be heading there after work to pick up some ingredients for this. It looks delicious!
See, I have this romaine salad, with radishes and sweet orange segments and a honey-orange-chile dressing that gets served with black bean tostadas that is pretty comforting! But it may be that it is the tostadas and not the salad that is comforting, considering the cheese and chopped avocado…
I must know where you got your fantastic kelly green baking dish! I LOVE it!
I got it from Old Time Pottery, but it’s originally from Crate and Barrel. Looks like you can only buy it as part of a set now: http://www.crateandbarrel.com/3-piece-potluck-baker-set/s332062
Oh man, how funny—I’ve been lusting over that very set. Too bad they still don’t come in kelly green!
This looks great! I can’t wait to try it.
This looks like something I would come up with on my own! By that, I mean it looks like we both have great taste. 🙂 I added this recipe to my pinterest board and hope to make it very soon.
Your penne looks delicious. You’re absolutely right, romaine is not comforting. 🙂