spicy smoked mozzarella pasta with spinach & roasted red peppers

is anyone else a slave to the freshly-prepared foods at the whole foods deli counter? i actually have to avoid that area of the store whenever i shop there because of the smoked mozzarella pasta salad–if that were the only thing i were allowed to eat for the rest of my life, i’d be okay with it. it’s cheesy, smoky, spicy & garlicky with a couple vegetables tossed in for good measure. true, you come out of the whole ordeal with dragon breath, but i’m cool with being a hermit for a couple days in exchange for a few bites of this pasta salad.

needless to say, when i stumbled across a recipe for it, i was overjoyed.  although i haven’t made the original yet, i played around with some of the ingredients last night to create a warm, dinner-friendly version. to take this dish from hot to cold, i loved & left the mayo & parmesan in exchange for a roux-based white sauce. the result is very similar to my smoked gouda mac ‘n’ cheese recipe, except for it uses a different kind of cheese & adds a couple more flavors & vegetables to the mix. i loved this meal. it’s heavy enough that no side is necessary and you don’t have to eat that much to be satisfied because the flavors are so heavy. i guess i am only speaking for myself since nathan, on the other hand, had seconds & thirds.

ingredients:
-1 16 oz. package penne pasta
-2 cups fresh raw spinach
-2 roasted red peppers, diced
-2 tbsp butter
-2 tbsp flour
-2 1/2 cups skim milk
-1/4 tsp cayenne
-1 tsp garlic salt, or to taste
-1/2 lb smoked mozzarella, shredded

directions:
1) preheat oven to 325 degrees & grease a 9×13 baking dish.
2) meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. when finished, drain, rinse & transfer pasta to prepared baking dish. add spinach & roasted red peppers to the dish. (typically, i wait for pasta to cook before proceeding so that i only get one pot dirty, but if you’re in a hurry, you can proceed to the next steps in a separate pot)
3) melt butter over medium-low heat & add flour, stirring it in immediately to form a roux. quickly whisk in milk to prevent the roux from burning.
4) increase heat to medium & add cayenne & garlic salt, stirring occasionally. you want the sauce to be thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
5) once thickened, remove from heat & whisk in the shredded mozzarella. be sure to use a fork or a whisk so that the cheese doesn’t form a single large clump in the middle of the sauce. pour this mixture over the pasta & vegetables, combining well.
6) bake for 15 minutes & enjoy.

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About Christina

Milwaukee-based bon vivant. Lover of food, yoga, design, good words & loving kindness.
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