Anyway, I have lots of fond memories of Lisa (like a road trip to Saskatoon to see Sarah McLachlan!) and I'm glad our paths have crossed again now that we're "all grown up". Lisa often mentions a blog called Dinner with Julie, and she sent me a recipe from there to try out.
SAUSAGE AND SPINACH BAKED PASTA
2 lean chicken and apple or Italian sausages, squeezed out of their casings (Lisa uses 2-3 mild turkey sausages, and I used 5 pork sausages - half spicy and half mild. I bought 1 pkg. of spicy and 1 pkg. of mild (5 sausages each) and split them up into ziploc bags so that I could use one portion for this recipe and the other portion today.)
1 onion, chopped
3-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes (undrained)
1 can tomato paste
1/4 c. pesto (I used about 1/2 c. of leftover basil from this recipe and put it in the food processor with 2 tbsp. each of pine nuts, parmesan, and olive oil)
3 cups penne or rotini pasta (preferably a whole wheat)
1 10 oz. bag baby spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 c. grated mozzarella
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
In a large saucepan, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat and cook the sausage, onion and garlic, breaking up the meat until the sausage is cooked through. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Stir in the pesto and some salt and pepper. (I didn't add any salt and pepper.) Cook the pasta until al dente, drain it well and toss it with the spinach, mozzarella and about half the Parmesan cheese. Stir in the hot tomato sauce, which will slightly wilt the spinach. Divide among baking dishes or aluminum containers (it should be enough to fill one 9”x13” pan) and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. (At this point the dish can be cooled completely, covered and frozen for up to 4 months. Bake from frozen.) Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes (40 if frozen) until bubbly and golden.
My family loved this (although my son hasn't tried it yet... he was at a birthday party for lunch today.) It's like a lasagna without all the fuss of layering the ingredients. I love hiding spinach in anything, so this recipe was definitely a hit. My apologies for the pictures.... it's really hard to make baked pasta look pretty, but trust me, it's very tasty and easy to make, and it would be a great meal to throw in the freezer.
Thank you Lisa!!