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BEST PASTA BAKES

Winter is the ideal time to enjoy hearty cheesy, meaty, fishy or vegetable pasta bakes. Comforting and nutritious, they can often be prepared in advance and cooked just before serving. They’re the perfect prepare-ahead meals for family or friends.

The origin of lasagne can be traced back to Ancient Greece. The name is derived from the Greek word ‘laganon’, a dish of layers of thin dough cut into strips, and sauce. The Italians used the word to refer to the dish the pasta was baked inand often included pigs belly mixed with fish. Thank goodness that combo hasn’t survived!

Cannelloni is derived from the Italian word ‘cannellone’ meaning big pipe. It is delicious stuffed with a variety of tasty fillings, covered in sauce and baked. In America the same dish is called manicotti.

It’s difficult to identify the true birthplace of cannelloni but it was one of the first pasta shapes created.

Penne is a smaller tubular pasta that can also be served as a bake or just tossed with sauce and garnished with herbs and sautéed vegetables. The name is derived from its shape — the ends are pointed and angled like the quill of a pen. 

LAZY LASAGNE

Use commercially prepared pasta sauces to save time making this yummy dish.

2 cups passata
1 onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
500g minced chicken
1 teaspoon each: dried basil, oregano
2 cups baby spinach leaves
8-10 sheets dried lasagne
325g alfredo fresh pasta sauce
1/2 cup finely grated tasty cheese

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Lightly grease a 25cm x 19cm baking dish. Spread a 1/4 cup of the passata over the base.

Sauté the onion in the oil, until softened. Add the chicken and break up using a fork. Sauté — stirring — until lightly coloured. Add the remaining passata and the herbs. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Place a layer of the lasagne on the base of the baking dish. Top evenly with half of the chicken mixture then half of the spinach. Top with another layer of lasagne, then the remaining chicken and spinach. Add another layer of lasagne. Pour the alfredo sauce evenly over the top. Cover with foil.

Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 30 minutes, until bubbling and golden. Serves 6.

CHILLI CON CARNE CANNELLONI

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
500g lean minced beef
35g packet Mexican seasoning mix
40g can diced tomatoes
425g can chilli beans
2 cups creamy pasta sauce
24 dried cannelloni tubes
1 1/2 cups grated tasty cheese

Heat the oil and a large non-frying pan. Sauté the onion, until softened. Add the mince mixing it with a fork to press out any lumps. Cook until lightly coloured. Stir in the seasoning mix then the tomatoes and beans. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool a little.

Spread a little pasta sauce on the base of two 25cm x 19cm baking dishes or similar. Fill the cannelloni tubes with the chilli con carne. Place in the baking dishes. Pour the remaining pasta sauce over the top and sprinkle with the cheese. Cover with foil.

Preheat the oven to 190°C. 

Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for 30 minutes until bubbling and golden-brown on top. Serves 6-8.

PENNE, GOUDA & SPINACH BAKE

125g (1 1/2 cups) penne
500g fresh spinach leaves
1 cup wild rocket leaves, chopped
Sauce: 25g butter
2 shallots, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons cornflour
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups milk
150g gouda cheese, shredded

Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.

Wash and trim the spinach. Combine with the rocket. Steam or microwave, until limp. Cool, then squeeze dry. Chop.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan on low. Sauté the shallots, until softened. Add the garlic. Sauté for 1 minute. Stir in the oregano, cornflour and seasonings. Gradually pour in the milk. Cook, stirring, until thick. Sprinkle in 3/4 of the gouda. Add the well-drained pasta and spinach. Pour into a 6-cup casserole or individual baking dishes. Sprinkle with the remaining gouda.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Bake the casserole for 25 minutes or until the top is golden. Serves 4-6.



Columns by Jan Bilton
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