Is there anything more comforting than baked pasta with gooey cheese and buttery breadcrumbs? I think not. Let’s add a couple veggies, use turkey sausage and call it healthy. Ok? Ok. Now let me warn you, this is not a 20-minute recipe. This requires a little investment of time, but it is so completely worth it. I promise! And it makes a lot, like a lot a lot, so you will have leftovers for days if you’re into that sort of thing. I like to make this on a Sunday so then I don’t have to worry about making dinner at the start of the work/school week. Last night after work I picked up my daughter from dance class and we came home and had this pasta which I had made the day before. It was only 6:00 when we were done eating, so we had enough time to take a walk and play at the playground before heading back home for bath and homework. I can’t believe I have a child old enough for homework but that’s another topic for another day. I digress, my point is I would sooooo rather spend these gorgeous, cool evenings outdoors with my kiddo than frantically trying to make a home cooked meal after working all day. I love that I can make this a day in advance and help make the weeknights a little less hectic. Tonight I will pick up my daughter at 5:00 and I have to have her at soccer practice by 6:00. Guess what we’ll be having for dinner in between?!
- 1-lb box whole wheat penne
- 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 1-lb hot or sweet Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 bag pre-washed baby spinach
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup flour
- ¼ cup butter
- 2-1/2 cups whole milk
- 1-lb shredded mozzarella cheese
- ½ tablespoon butter, melted
- ½ cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs
- ¼ cup shredded parmesan
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees
- Bring large pot of water to a boil
- Lightly coat a 13x9 baking dish with cooking spray
- In a large mixing bowl toss together squash, 1 tablespoon olive oil, ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper.
- Pour squash on a large baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes, stirring once or twice. Squash should be tender and golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
- Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When skillet is hot add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, sausage and fennel seeds. Stir frequently to break up sausage. Cook until sausage is no longer pink, about 5-6 minutes. Remove sausage from the skillet, reserving 1 tablespoon of drippings in the skillet. Place the sausage on a paper towel-lined plate to drain excess grease.
- Return the skillet to the stove and add spinach and garlic to the skillet and sauté 3-5 minutes or until spinach has wilted.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine spinach, sausage and squash. Set aside.
- Cook pasta in boiling water, 2 minutes less than package directions. Drain well and add to bowl with sausage, squash and spinach.
- In a medium saucepan, melt butter and sprinkle in flour. Whisk together over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly until butter and flour are thoroughly combined.
- Slowly pour in milk and whisk until smooth. Stir frequently to prevent the sauce from burning on the bottom of the pan. Cook until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir in cheese until melted. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour cheese sauce in bowl with the penne, sausage and squash and mix until thoroughly combined. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish.
- Stir together melted butter, bread crumbs and parmesan. Sprinkle breadcrumb topping over pasta and bake for 20-25 minutes or until pasta is heated through and breadcrumbs are golden brown.
If you don’t want to peel and cube a whole butternut squash, you can usually find bags of pre-cut squash in the produce section.
Use hot or sweet sausage depending on your preference. I use mild sausage when making this for my daughter.
Be sure to undercook the pasta when you boil it. You’re going to be cooking it again in the oven and you don’t want it to get mushy.
If you want to make this a little healthier you can use 1% or 2% milk instead of whole milk in the cheese sauce.