Fall is here! Well, sort of – it’s 75 degrees today, rainy, and the leaves had barely begun to change before the wet dreariness started pulling them off their branches. Fall is nearly everyone’s favorite season, isn’t it? It’s the gentle reprieve from the endless humidity of summer, and the last moment of lightness before every curbside and crevice is packed with heavy snow. And it’s so short and sweet – it never overstays its welcome – which always makes a good thing better.
Fall also makes me want to eat warm food for every meal, and pasta bakes are so painfully easy. There are infinite varieties! I have a feeling that “why have I never done this before?” is going to be the dominant refrain of this cooking project.
Warning: This carbonara does not have peas, because peas are the worst (tied with lima beans).
Spicy Carbonara Bake
1.5 lbs cooked and drained pasta of your choice
1 c. spinach, finely chopped
4 – 5 strips of bacon
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jar red sauce of your choice
salt & lots of black pepper
1/2 c. grated parmesan
1 c. grated pepper jack
1/2 c. grated mozzarella
1/2 c. italian breadcrumbs
Cook al dente and drain your pasta ahead of time. Set aside.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Set the racks to make sure one is in the middle, and one is at the top of the oven. Butter a large baking dish. Set aside.
Mince garlic. Heat medium-sized skillet over medium-low. When heated, take strips of bacon and cut into pieces with a scissors, so they fall directly into the skillet. When the bacon is nearly finished cooking, add minced garlic. Once the garlic is tender, but not yet browned, remove the pan from heat. Set aside.
I tried to mix everything in a large ziploc bag – I do not recommend it. It was useless and didn’t go well, and made a huge mess.
Tip: free up space in your fridge by using the various half-jars of sauce cluttering your shelves
Finely chop your spinach. Grate all of your cheese. In your largest mixing bowl, add the spinach and 1.5 cups grated cheese (1.5 of the 2 total cups of grated cheese you have – it’s your call as to what .5 cup you’d like to set aside, to be sprinkled atop the final mixture). Crack in the egg. Add the jar of sauce – no need to get fancy and make your own. Salt and pepper generously. Add your crispy bacon and tender garlic. Finally, throw in your cooked pasta, and mix thoroughly.
The “before” picture
Take the mixture and scrape it into the buttered baking dish. Cover with the remaining 1/2 c. of cheese, and your italian breadcrumbs. If you’re feeling artistic, add a dollop of sauce on top, like we did. Cook, uncovered, on middle rack for 25 minutes. Move to top rack for a final 10 – 15 minutes. If you’re uncertain, keep adding time in 5 minute increments – as long as it’s not burnt, it will be tasty, so don’t be afraid to let the cheese brown.
The “after” picture, minus a few bites.