I found the below recipe inside the box of my generic low-fat cream cheese last month. I've been just waiting for the right time to make it. Frankly, to be home for a morning long enough to play around with it.
Normally, when I find a new recipe, I try to make it exactly as written for that first time. I might jot notes in the margins or think out loud while I'm cooking about the possibilities for tweaking it, but I really try to just follow the recipe. The first time.
However, when I saw this one, I knew immediately that I just wouldn't be able to do that. It's a simple, straight-forward pasta dish and when I read it, I could all but hear it BEGGING me for some creative touches. Some panache. Some wow factor changes. Really. I heard the little white cut-out card whispering to me.
It's a sickness. I know. Leave me alone with my voices, thankyouverymuch.
I canNOT wait for dinner, now. The smells in here are making me swoon. The texture of this dish and the look of it, even just waiting to go into the oven for tonight's feast is making my fingers itch. I want to pick at the tender pasta and sample the chicken smothered in sauce. I can't stand it. And as of this writing, I have about 6 hours of this torture to go.
I'll share the bare-bones original recipe with you here, then I'll give you all my tweaks and tricks that have produced this masterpiece sitting on my counter. I'll add more pictures later, to show you the bubbly yummy goodness, after it gets topped with these babies and cooked to perfection.
Three Cheese Chicken Penne Pasta Bake
1 1/2 c. multi-grain penne pasta, uncooked
1 pkg. (9 oz.) fresh spinach leaves
1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into bite size pieces
1 tsp. basil
1 jar (14.5 oz.) spaghetti sauce
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes, drained
2 oz. low-fat cream cheese, cubed
1 c. shredded mozzarella
2 Tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
Heat oven to 375. Cook pasta as directed, adding spinach leaves to the pasta water at the very last minute.
While pasta is cooking, cook and stir chicken and basil in a large non-stick skillet on med-high for 3 minutes. Add spaghetti sauce and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Stir in low-fat cream cheese.
Drain pasta and return to sauce pan. Stir in chicken and sauce mixture and add 1/2 c. of mozzarella. Pour all of it into a lightly sprayed 9x9 baking dish.
Bake 20 minutes and sprinkle with remaining cheeses. Bake another 3 minutes till cheese is melted. Makes 4 servings.
What I did:
- I doubled everything, of course, in my handy-dandy 9x13 P@mpered Chef stoneware baking dish. LOVE my PC stoneware, incidentally!
- I used almost 4 c. total of uncooked pasta (to make up for the added water in the spinach - see below).
- Once cooked and drained, I poured the pasta into a sprayed 9x13 stoneware pan.
- I grilled the chicken breasts low and slow on the outside grill (it was a gorgeous sunny morning and I wanted the flavor that only grilling can produce.). I didn't add it to to the sauce either. Once the chicken was cooked, I chopped it up and layered it all over the pasta in the 9x13.
For the sauce, I did this:I can guarantee, when this baby makes it to the table, I will NOT be the only one who can't leave it alone. If heaven has a smell, it is this dish. Really.
It's in the oven now, set on time delayed baking and waiting to be topped by yet more cheese. Don't worry, my heart will be fine. All my mozz is of the part-skim variety. I promise.
- I omitted the basil, as my sauce was already quite flavorful.
- I used more than 2 oz. of cream cheese - I was trying to use all the left-overs from another recipe.
- I added two little triangles of Laughing Cow Garlic and Herb spreadable cheese, as they needed to be used up. (Hey, I'm frugal, what can I say?!)
- I added extra parmesan to the sauce - probably about 1/4 c. (I am 50% Sicilian, after all!)
- I added about 3/4-1 c. of white wine. (See above note about my Sicilian roots.)
- I used a box of frozen chopped spinach, and just put it right in the sauce mixture from the start to thaw it and retain the nutrition in the mix.
- Just before I took it off the stove, I added 1 c. of mozzarella and about 1/2 c. of an Italian blend of shredded cheese left from another recipe. (Frugal. Sicilian. Cheese Lover. Whatever.)
- When it all came to a boil and simmered for a while (I lost track of time while I was breaking up fights over Little People weddings at the Little People zoo.), I poured the sauce over the pasta and chicken in the 9x13 and gently mixed it all up.
Mmmmmm, just look at this beautiful, cheesey,
creamy, wine-y goodness.