Chicken Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Pasta

This meal was inspired by a dish at one of my favorite Italian restaurants, where the noodles are made from scratch daily and you can taste the love and attention that went into creating the pasta from this family-owned establishment. At Carmelo’s Italian Restaurant in Wausau, WI they stuff their homemade shells with a similar combination of ingredients. While my take on their recipe is designed for a quick weeknight meal, when I have more time I switch out the store-bought noodles and make some from scratch just like they do at this charming local restaurant in Wisconsin. When preparing the meal with dry noodles, it works equally well with either large shells or manicotti. Pair this pasta well with your favorite red wine, and add some Italian music for a date night experience at home.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound mild Italian chicken sausage
1 (10.5 ounce) package large shells or manicotti noodles
2 cups frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
1 (15 ounce) container part-skim ricotta cheese
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 (26 ounce) jar marinara
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, and spray a large rectangular baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Warm olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook for one minute, until fragrant. Add Italian chicken sausage and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until browned. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Cook noodles according to package instructions. Drain noodles and let cool.
  4. Place the spinach in a cloth towel and squeeze to remove water. In a large bowl combine Italian chicken sausage, spinach, ricotta cheese, nutmeg, salt and white pepper. Stir until well combined.
  5. If you are using manicotti noodles or shells that are more tubular, place mixture in large zip top bag. Cut a small slit in the corner of the bag. Pipe mixture into pasta and place in the baking dish. If your shells are more open, simply use a spoon to fill them before placing them in the baking dish.
  6. Cover stuffed pasta with marinara and bake for 25 minutes, until edges are brown and sauce is bubbly. Remove and top with Parmesan cheese. Continue baking for about 2 minutes, until cheese has melted.

Pasta with Sausage and Butternut Squash Sauce

This velvety, butternut squash sauce is nutritious with a taste of decadence. Enjoy this guilt-free, creamy sauce topped with a little sausage or substitute toasted pecans for a vegetarian meal. Roasting the squash in advance makes this a quick meal to throw together for family or friends. When I have a lot of butternut squash in my CSA share, I like to roast up several batches to freeze for later use. Simply follow step one below and scoop the inside flesh from the squash. Store squash in zip-top bags and freeze until ready for use. Defrost squash in the refrigerator the day before preparing this recipe and you’ll have a homemade meal with farm-fresh ingredients on your table in less than 15 minutes.

Ingredients:
1 large butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
2 teaspoons butter
8 ounces any short whole grain pasta noodle, cooked according to package directions
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup skim or low-fat milk
½ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
½ pound mild ground sausage
Fresh grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. On a medium baking sheet, place squash halves flesh side up. Place 1 teaspoon of butter in the hollow of each squash. Roast until flesh is tender, about 50 to 60 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to touch. This step can be done several hours earlier or the day before.
  2. Scoop inside flesh of squash from skin and place in a food processor or blender. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sauté for about a minute, until fragrant, and combine with squash. Set skillet aside for later use.
  3. Add milk to food processor or blender and puree to create a smooth and creamy consistency. Pour butternut squash sauce into a medium sauce pan and warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally and careful not to boil. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low to keep warm until ready to serve.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the sausage in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until browned and crumbly, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain the fat and set aside.
  5. Divide pasta on four plates and cover with equal amounts of sauce. Top with sausage and Parmesan cheese.

Servings: 4

Black Pasta with Tomato Langostino Sauce

Made with squid or cuttlefish ink, black pasta has a slight salty taste that makes it an ideal pair with seafood. This trendy style of pasta has been popping up in restaurants and speciality grocery stores. You can also purchase squid or cuttlefish ink from specialty grocery stores or online retail sites and make homemade black pasta by adding 4 teaspoons of this specialty ink into your favorite fresh-egg pasta recipe.

Langostino has a lightly sweet and rich seafood taste similar to lobster. While often referred to as squat lobster, longostino are actually crustaceans akin to crabs. This affordable seafood comes with an upscale taste and makes a perfect stay-home, date-night meal served with your favorite red wine.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 large tomatoes, diced
½ cup red wine
1 teaspoon concentrated tomato paste
2 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped
12 ounces cooked and peeled langoustine tails, defrosted if frozen
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ ground black pepper
8 to 10 ounces black spaghetti (made with squid or cuddle fish ink)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add tomatoes and cook until tender, about five minutes.
  2. Add wine, tomato paste, oregano, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add langostino. Simmer uncovered for at least 10 minutes while you prepare the pasta. Add more wine if needed.
  3. Prepare pasta according to package instructions. Drain and serve with tomato and langoustine sauce on top. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Servings: 4

Summer Tomato and White Bean Pasta

My Pantry Pasta dish just got a summertime makeover with my new Sumer Tomato and White Bean Pasta recipe. It is still a quick meal for a busy night when you want a delicious homemade meal without spending a lengthy amount of time in the kitchen. Sweet summer tomatoes pair excellently with white beans in this hearty vegetarian pasta. With a puree sauce, it looks like a simple marinara that is sure to please the picky eaters in your life. Cheers to making meals that are both healthy and convenient.

Ingredients:
½ pound whole wheat spaghetti noodles
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15 ounce) can Great Northern Beans, rinsed and drained
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon concentrated tomato paste
¼ cup white wine
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Fresh basil, cut into ribbons
Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Add beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for about ten minutes.
  3. In a blender or food processor, or with an immersion blender, puree bean and tomato mixture to create a creamy sauce. Return to skillet and simmer for five more minutes.
  4. Serve over spaghetti noodles and top with basil and Parmesan cheese.

Servings: 4