Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Spinach Artichoke Pasta & White Bean, Celery and Sausage Salad

Not the prettiest dish ever, but it's dinner nonetheless!  Spinach Artichoke Pasta Bake.
This was one of those "Dad's at a meeting, let's eat out" kind of nights, but since my mantra is "Cook What You've Got" and I am the originator of the mantra, I figured I should live it out.

Since my kids will eat virtually anything mixed with pasta, I decided to go with what sounded good to me and make a baked cheesy pasta that was bumped up in the nutritional category with spinach and artichokes.  As I finished it I realized the lack of protein for my growing boys as well as the lack of anything remotely light and refreshing to balance the rich pasta.

A quick look at the fridge revealed some garlicky white beans I had cooked several days before and a big bunch of celery.  I always have lemons on hand thanks to the generosity of neighbors and friends and remembering a certain sausage and potato salad from Alsace, I grabbed a nitrate free smoked Italian Sausage link out of the fridge, too, thinking that would add more flavor along with a little meat to satiate my carnies (not the carnival working variety, the meat-eating kind.).

A countertop full of ingredients became dinner within 45 minutes and we had a pleasant evening together.  We even had drop-in guests so I was super thankful that I didn't go with my original thought of really going low-brow and eating straight out of the pasta dish.  (Not really, but sometimes the lack of dirty dishes is appealing!)

CWYG Stats - everything but the artichokes was from "The List". Because I'm an artichoke freak, they are always on my personal list.  They are definitely optional though because they can be expensive.

Spinach Artichoke Baked Pasta
1/2 lb penne pasta
10 oz frozen chopped organic spinach
1 cup frozen aritchoke hearts, cut in half, optional
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp rice flour (or use the same amount all purpose flour as fats combined)
2 cups milk
Freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1/2 shredded parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions cooking 1 minute less than what the directions say for al dente. (Better yet, use your own "dentes" and check it along for just barely beyond the crunchy middle stage.) Drain well.

In a mesh strainer, rinse the spinach to thaw then squeeze dry in a few paper towels or a tea towel. Halve the artichoke hearts.  In the olive oil and butter, saute the onion and garlic.  Add the rice flour and stir well.  Slowly incorporate the the milk until a thick sauce begins to form.  Add the spinach and artichokes as well as the nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.  Toss the pasta in and then transfer to a oven-friendly pan.  Top with shredded cheese and broil the top until lightly browned.

White Bean, Celery and Sausage Salad
1 1/2 cups cooked white beans (or 1 can cannelini beans, drained)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 stalks of celery slice very thinly
1 fully cooked Italian Sausage link, chopped (Note: this is totally optional and I liked it better without.)
Black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes to taste

Mix everything together in a bowl and let stand while you finish cooking everything.  I actually sauteed the sausage a bit to give it some color but that's also optional.

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