I’ve been going through a bit of an Italian-style phase lately with the new recipes I’ve been trying. One of my more recent attempts is a baked penne dish inspired by a recipe in a Simply Perfect Italian cooking magazine I have.
As you may or may not recall, as a result of a great sale a few months ago at Brookshire’s, one of my local grocery options, I stocked up my pantry with 10 cans of Hunt’s Pasta Sauce. I usually make my own pasta sauce, but I do always like to keep a tin or two of Hunt’s Pasta Sauce in my pantry for a quick, easy meal. For example, I’ve found that it’s just the right amount of sauce for a frozen (or refrigerated) bag of ravioli. It’s also just the right amount of sauce for when I make stuffed shells — I figure I’m already futzing with stuffing the pasta shells, so unless I’m feeling especially like puttering in the kitchen, I usually make it easy on myself and doctor up a can of Hunt’s Pasta Sauce. When we’re making up a big batch of pizzas (such as for a family birthday party), mixing a tin of Hunt’s Pasta Sauce with tomato paste is an easy way to make a yummy pizza sauce for a crowd.
Generally, I choose Hunt’s Pasta Sauce over other brands because even when it’s not on sale, it’s usually more affordable than other brands; I like the flavor of it (‘though I add additional seasonings to it, of course); and in comparison to other sauces, it seems to have the least amount of added sugar.
Hunt’s Pasta Sauce comes in a variety of flavors, but I usually get either the Garlic & Herb or the No-Sugar-Added sauce, although I’ve found that the No-Sugar-Added sauce is thinner and more watery than the others.
Given that, at a $1 a can, the Pasta Sauce is more affordable than an equal amount of tomato sauce, I’m treating the Hunt’s Pasta Sauce as I would a seasoned tomato sauce and trying it in a few different ways.
When the recipe for baked penne caught my eye, it provided the inspiration for developing my 7th Hunt’s Pasta sauce meal. Not only is it yummy, but for a pasta dish, it’s relatively low in carbs — just over an ounce of pasta per serving. If you substitute whole wheat or high fiber penne for regular penne, you boost the fiber (and lower the net carbs) even more.
As Wikipedia tells us:
Penne (UK /ˈpɛniː/ or US /ˈpɛneɪ/) is a type of pasta with cylinder-shaped pieces. Penne is the plural form of the Italian penna, deriving from Latin penna (meaning “feather” or “quill”). In Italy, penne are produced in two main variants: “penne lisce” (smooth) and “penne rigate” (furrowed), the latter having ridges on each penna. There is also pennoni (“big quills”), which is a wider version of penne. The same or similar shape is also called mostaccioli (meaning “little mustache” in Italian, a form of penne lisce that is smooth, not ridged, in texture) and ziti (long hollow rods which are also smooth in texture and have square-cut edges; “cut ziti” are ziti cut into shorter tubes), and can refer to particular dishes made from penne-shaped pasta. There is also zitoni, which is a wider version of ziti. It can be somewhat difficult to differentiate between subtypes of penne in the USA, since regional differences in product naming can result in both ridged and smooth forms of penne being labelled interchangeably. In the U.S., many people refer to penne as “penne pasta,” while other types of pasta are not typically referred to in this manner.
Penne is traditionally cooked al dente and served with pasta sauces such as pesto and marinara. Penne is a popular ingredient in pasta salads. Penne makes an excellent and versatile pasta for many applications because of its very practical design. The hollow center allows it to hold sauce, while the angular ends act as scoops. Penne rigate’s ridges allow it to hold still more sauce, as well as offering an alternative textural option for certain dishes; penne lisce offers a refined sensation to the palate.
Vegetarians: Substitute vegetarian meat crumbles and/or add in veggies — chunks of eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, 10 ounce package of frozen spinach (well thawed and drained), whatever you’d like — in place of the meat.
However you make it, I promise you, it smells and tastes YUMMY!
MEAL 7: Penne al Forno con Ragù Carne (Baked Penne with Meat Sauce) (Serves 6)
Vegetarians: Use a vegetarian meat substitute in place of the ground meat, or add in some more of your favorite veggies!
- 1 pound lean (93/7 or greater) ground beef or ground turkey, or 1 pound bulk turkey sausage, reduced-fat bulk pork sausage, or cooked Italian turkey sausage
- Olive or canola oil
- Red wine (white would likely work, as well)
- 1/2 medium to large onion, finely chopped/diced
- 1 – 2 carrot(s), finely diced/minced
- Minced garlic to taste
- 1 can (26 ounces) Hunt’s pasta sauce
- 4 ounces (1/2 cup) sliced black olives, drained OR minced/diced black olives
- About 1/2 to 2/3 (2 to 3 ounces) grated part-skim mozzarella cheese (do yourself a favor and grate your own!)
- Worcestershire sauce (Vegetarians: Leave out or use a vegan substitute)
- Seasonings to taste: bay leaf(ves), basil, Italian seasoning, oregano, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, parsley and rosemary (optional))
- 8 ounces penne, cooked al dente
- Brown meat in a large non-stick skillet in a splash of olive or canola oil.
- Add in diced onion and minced carrot and sauté for just a bit. Add in minced garlic and sauté. Add in some healthy splashes of wine (I prefer red; I used some Shiraz, because that’s what I had on hand and open) to “deglaze” the pan, and simmer the onion/carrot/garlic mixture for just a bit.
- Pour in pasta sauce and black olives. Add seasonings to taste: a splash of Worcestershire sauce, basil, Italian seasoning, oregano, garlic powder, and parsley. I also like a sprinkle of red pepper flakes to give it a hint of “fra diavolo” flavor. Add in a bay leaf or two. I’m lucky enough to have fresh rosemary growing in my herb garden, so I like to lay a snipping or two of rosemary twigs on the sauce to simmer (as with bay leaves, I remove them before we eat). I much prefer fresh rosemary to dried, but you can use dried if you prefer, or you can just leave the rosemary out. Reduce heat to simmer.
- While the sauce simmers, cook penne to al dente. (Remember, they’ll be baking in the oven, too.) Drain.
- Lightly an 11″x7″ (2 quart) baking pan (preferably glass) with cooking spray or oil lightly.
- Stir penne into sauce. Spread sauce/penne mixture evenly into the pan.
- Bake, covered, at 375F for 45 minutes. (No need to preheat oven. But if you preheat the oven, bake for 30 minutes). Remove cover and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Bake until cheese is melted and casserole is bubbly, about 5 to 10 minutes.
- Remove from oven and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Refrigerate leftovers.
Don’t Want to Use Your Oven? Prepare as above through Step 4. For Step 5, add 2 cups water into the skillet and bring to a boil. Stir in penne. Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until penne is cooked, about 10 minutes. If sauce seems too thin, cook for another 5 minutes or so to thicken. Top with grated cheese. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Refrigerate leftovers.