Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spicy pasta bake

I'm sure you've all had a bad day, here and there. Maybe even a bad week. Shit happens. No big deal, right? Right. Well, I guess I'm having a bad-few-months. First I break my knee. Then I get laid off. Then, last night, I get an e-mail from Columbia University saying thanks for your interest, but we are not accepting you into our journalism program. Alright. It kinda made me feel like the clumsy kid who gets picked last when the cool kids are making teams. It also made me laugh out loud for a few seconds —a weird reaction I tend to have whenever something sucky happens to me. And then, after I was done with my brief auto-commiseration pity party, I thought it wasn't all that bad. I guess things come in threes, so this should be it. Or at least I'm hoping so, because really, why is the universe conspiring against me?


Unless, maybe, said universe is conspiring towards greater things. Like moving to Europe. Which, for those who don't know it yet, is the next step. A big step. A huge step. I was born and raised there, but haven't lived there for almost 10 years. And all of the sudden I know that sometime in late April I'll grab my suitcase and a bunch of random crap I can't live without and propel myself into my next adventure. It's exhilarating and scary at the same time. Which, I guess, is why I've been finding myself cooking lots of comfort classics —dishes that make me feel warm and cozy and happy even when life seems to be spinning out of control at the speed of light all around me. I've also started cooking strictly out of the freezer and pantry, buying only perishables and using them right away. Emptying the fridge, the freezer and the pantry is a challange, but it's also going to be fun. Kind of like an episode of Iron Chef, with the bonus that no one will critique my food. This pasta bake is great both because it definitely falls into the comfort food category and because it made me get rid of the last of my elbow macaroni (which I use only to make this dish!), the last of my carrots, some of my canned tomatoes and random cheeses I had laying around the snack drawer.

Oh, yeah, and it's delicious.

Adapted from Cooking Light

4 ounces small elbow macaroni
Cooking spray
1  cup  chopped onion
1  cup chopped carrot
2  teaspoons garlic
1  pound  lean ground sirloin
1  cup  tomato sauce
Crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper
1  cup  milk
2  tablespoons  all-purpose flour
1/8  teaspoon  ground nutmeg
6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
Grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350°.
Cook pasta according to the package directions, drain. Lightly coat pasta with cooking spray.

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion and carrot, and sauté 4 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add ground beef, season with salt and pepper; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Add tomato sauce, season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Cook for 2 minutes or until most of liquid evaporates.
Add pasta to beef mixture in pan, stirring to combine. Spoon pasta mixture into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Place milk, flour, nutmeg, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan; stir with a whisk until blended. Cook over medium heat 2 minutes or until thickened, stirring constantly with a whisk. Add cheese, stirring until smooth. Pour cheese mixture over pasta mixture; stir. Sprinkle evenly with grated cheese. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.


  1. Europe beats shitty old Columbia, anyways. :) The weather sucks there. Ha!

  2. Comfort food is always welcome in my house, and this casserole looks incredible! Can I join you on your mission to cook out of your pantry/freezer? I really need to do that too! :)

  3. TKW: I agree... didn't really want to go there anyways =)

    sounds like a goof Iron Chef-like idea. Let's attack those pantries!



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