So, this recipe does not have any special story to accompany it other than it is a delicious week night dinner to satisfy the mostly vegetarian (the would be me, but more on that later) and the omnivores they love...and to use up some things I had in the fridge.
Spicy Baked Penne
1 lb. penne rigate
1-26 oz. jar of your favorite sauce - I like the garlic & herb variety
2 bonless, skinless chicken breasts
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped (or 1/2 of a large one)
1 small orange bell pepper, chopped
about 8 oz. shredded Italian Five Cheese blend
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes - a couple of large pinches
1 large clove garlic, crushed
3-5 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. oregano
Salt and Pepper
Preheat oven to 350 °F. Start a large pot to boil for the pasta. Cook pasta until almost al dente. Drain, but do not rinse. (You still want some bite to it because it will absorb some of the sauce while it bakes.) Meanwhile, add oil and garlic to a skillet and preheat on medium-high. Cut chicken into small pieces and place in a mixing bowl. Add pepper, oregano, and a handful of parmesan, and toss to coat. When the skillet is hot, add chicken and saute until golden brown. In a medium sauce pan, combine the sauce, basil, pepper flakes, zucchini and peppers, about 1 cup of water, and cook over medium low to start to cook the veggies, and to start to marry the flavors. The water helps to thin the sauce out a bit because it will thicken as it bakes. (In a perfect world, the sauce would be hot, and the chicken and pasta would all be finished at the same time!) Combine the pasta, sauce mixture, and chicken in a 13 x 9 baking dish. Toss to coat, and sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the cheese starts to brown and the sauce begins to bubble.
This is not exactly your mother's mostaccoli. The veggies will still have a bit of a crunch, which we love, and the heat from the red pepper is just right. Comforting and healthful.
As for my diet, I have been working on the vegetarian thing for about 4 months now. I decided to do this both for health and environmental reasons. Plus, I have many friends who maintain a vegetarian diet so I know that I would have support if I need it. I have been doing pretty well, except for a couple of my favorite things, which I have chosen to keep eating in strict moderation. Fish is the first one; especially my sweet and spicy rubbed salmon, which I am sure that I will put up here at some point. The others are either chicken or turkey dishes. No pork and no beef. I have not eaten beef for nearly a year. I am enjoying it (if you didn't glean this fact from my first post...I love beans). I am forced to be more deliberate about everthing that I consume, and as a result, I am eating and feeling better.