Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Not So Lovely

Sometimes the best tasting food is not the best looking. Some of my favorite salads look like a mish mash of ingredients, held together by a little lettuce. I love soft polenta with a meat sauce, but when mixed together to combine the flavors in each bite, it really doesn't look very pretty even while it tastes delicious.

Tonight's pasta dish is a bit like that. Sweetie had found some beautiful ahi tuna steaks at a good price and I volunteered to make a baked pasta dish to go with it. A while ago I made a recipe which combined linguine, asparagus, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses and it seemed like a good jumping off point.

In the freezer I found a box of frozen chopped spinach (I know, I know, fresh is so much healthier or more virtuous or something, but I worked a twelve hour day yesterday and went to a funeral this morning, so frozen it is) and some dried noodles in the pantry. The fridge yielded both ricotta and Parmesan cheeses and the cupboard held some garlic, so we were in business. While things were cooking I decided that mixing some bread crumbs into the grated Parmesan for the topping would be a good idea and remembered that I still had some pine nuts in the fridge, so they went on the top, too.

This dish goes together fairly quickly, is fairly healthy, and is really, really good. If you don't want to bake it (it IS summer after all), you can put the pasta mixture right into a heated serving bowl and sprinkle on the cheese (no breadcrumbs) and some toasted pine nuts (which can be toasted on top of the stove in a small cast iron skillet in no time...toasted tastes MUCH better than raw pine nuts). If you are really hungry this won't serve 4, either. It's not so lovely, but it is very tasty.

Not Lovely Pasta and Spinach with Ricotta & Parmesan & Pine Nuts

½ lb dried flat noodles (I used no yolk egg noodles)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 10 oz package frozen chopped spinach ( or one bunch cleaned, stems removed, steamed, drained and chopped), thawed and drained of excess water
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg or ¼ teaspoon already ground nutmeg
½ cup ricotta cheese (I used low fat variety)
Salt and pepper
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (best quality you can use), divided
¼ cup dried bread crumbs, unseasoned
Optional: 1-2 tablespoons raw pine nuts

Fill a large pot with about 6 quarts of water and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the dried pasta (you could also use linguine or spaghetti), return to a boil and stir. Boil until pasta is al dente.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Butter an 8 inch square baking dish, or equivalent.

While the pasta water is heating, heat the olive oil and a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and saute’ for about a minute, just until the garlic begins to color. Remove from heat and set aside.

To the garlic and oil mixture, add the thawed and drained or cooked, drained and chopped spinach. Stir to combine. Add the nutmeg and stir to combine. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, place the ricotta cheese. Add ¼ cup of the pasta water once it is hot. Using a whisk, stir well to combine the cheese and hot water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese. Set aside.

When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it in a colander, then put the hot pasta over the spinach mixture. Pour the cheese mixture on top of that and stir quickly to combine all ingredients. Turn this mixture into the prepared baking dish.

On a plate or piece of waxed paper, combine the rest of the grated Parmesan and the bread crumbs. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the pasta mixture in the baking dish. Optional: sprinkle 1 – 2 tablespoons of pine nuts over the breadcrumb/cheese topping.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, until the edges of the pasta are browned and the pine nuts and cheese are golden. Serve at once.

Serves 4


  1. I prefer frozen spinach for things like this. Looks good to me.

  2. So it doesn't look so great. It's easy and delicious. that's two out of three, which means - winner!!!

  3. "or more virtuous or something" -- hah! Sometimes frozen is actually healthier -- simply because the fresh begins to break down the moment it is picked, and after it's been in MY fridge, it may have few nutrients left at all. Frozen spinach is a great back-up veggie to have on hand.

    And I applaud you for taking a picture anyway, even if this dish isn't "pretty." It sounds tasty, and I'm going to substitute chard and give it a shot.

  4. Anonymous4:26 PM

    I dunno, it looks all yummy kugely to me.

    I have a long list of things I want to cook and blog about, but are too ugly to photograph. Meh, eating is not for the weak of stomach!

  5. Anonymous10:57 PM

    I think I may have to try to make this on the name alone!

  6. It might not be the most photogenic of foods, but rustic is good and it sure sounds tasty.

  7. Reading the ingredient list - you know it's going to be good.

  8. I often find the most satisfying foods can be the least photogenic... which is when I have to take a step back and remind myself that I eat to fuel my body, not only my blog ;-) This sounds wonderful - all my favourite ingredients.