After dabbling in pumpkin at breakfast, I was ready to make our little orange friend the main event. I had researched a few options, but I didn’t have anything planned just yet. Then, Monday night, I was debating what to make for dinner, when my aunt called to see if they could come over with the crew. Since I was now in charge of feeding a small army, I knew I had to turn out something both big and impressive. Well, really just big, but I was in the mood to amaze. And then, miracle of miracles (well, miracle of canned goods and freezers), I actually had everything on hand to make baked pumpkin pasta!
I found this recipe when my friend Maranda told me that the Libby’s Web site had really good recipes. It sounded so good and pretty healthy, so I was all about it. We don’t eat a lot of pasta or baked dishes in my house, but hey, up until two months ago, we didn’t eat a lot of organics or olive oil either. So hey, the times, they are a-changin’!
Baked Pumpkin Pasta
(adapted from Libby’s)
Serves 6-12, depending on how hungry they are
4 cups dry penne (whole-wheat, if possible)
One 15 ounce can of pure pumpkin
2 tbsp whole-wheat or all-purpose flour
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 can fat-free evaporated milk
12 ounces fully cooked chicken sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices (I used Trader Joe’s garlic chicken sausage, which is always a win)
One 6 ounce package baby spinach
1 cup shredded part-skim or reduced-fat mozzarella
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions. When i’ts time to drain the pasta, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. (This was my first time doing this! I just put a bowl under the colander, but I totally felt like a real cook.)
Meanwhile, spray a medium pan with non-stick cooking spray. Add pumpkin, flour, spices, and salt.
Slowly add evaporated milk.
It will start to smell good. Really cheesy and Italian even though there is no cheese or tomatoes involved. Within a few minutes, it will get really creamy and saucy.
Add the sauce to the pasta pot along with the sausage and the reserved pasta liquid.
Stir it all up! Spray a 4 quart baking dish with non-stick spray. Spread half the pasta mixture in the bottom of the pan. Then top with all the spinach.
Top with the rest of the pasta mixture.
Spray a piece of foil with nonstick and cover the pan (sprayed side down). Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. While it’s baking, make a big salad or steam some broccoli for a little more green.
When the timer goes off, remove the pasta from the oven and top with the cheeses. (I left part of mine un-cheesed, since I lack lactose tolerance.)
Pop back in the oven, uncovered, for about five minutes, until the cheese is melted.
Despite the fact I’m cooking like it’s fall, it was way too hot to bake Monday night! I was sweating balls by the time I pulled this guy out of the oven. I made a salad to go with it to lighten things up, and we ate outside on the porch with the whole fam.
And…it was a big hit! The thing I’ve realized after cooking more with pumpkin is that it’s actually really mild. I think we’re so used to having it in Thanksgiving dishes, we expect it to have a lot of sugar and spice. But on its own, it’s pretty damn chill. And that’s how it was in this dish. Blended with the evaporated milk, it just makes for an excellent, really creamy base, kind of like alfredo. And who knew it was so good with garlic?!
I didn’t have cheese in my portion, but it was still really creamy. I didn’t miss the cheese at all. I also wouldn’t miss the sausage–definitely give this a try if you’re a vegetarian, dining with herbivores, or just all out of meat.
Libby’s says the recipe is meant to serve 12; 1/12 of the recipe has 200 calories, 4 grams fat (1.5 saturated), 3 grams of fiber, and 12 grams of protein. I would expect most people would eat more than 1/12 of the recipe. But even if you ate 1/6, which is reasonable, it’s still is a really healthy dinner!
The best part is that my family really loved this! They were very impressed, and I was happy because it was healthy. Plus, there was enough that we have leftovers for lunch tomorrow, and food like this always reheats well (and is so much better than a Lean Cuisine). It definitely can be filed under “comfort food,” but it’s not so heavy that you’ll feel like you ate a brick after you eat it. If you’re a big pasta-and-sauce person, this will be a nice little alternative.
This recipe officially hits everything on my list: healthy, whole foods, cheap, easy, adaptable, yummy. A win any night of the week!