At this time of year, there are nights when we can’t be distracted from our televisions by the need to prepare a meal. Sports events are a major culprit here, but in my household another is Election Night.
So what’s a cook to do on nights like these? I recommend a pasta dish that is made ahead and only needs to be baked just before serving. This baked pasta is a fresh innovation on the heavy tomato and cheese casseroles of my childhood.
I like to make pasta casseroles that include vegetables and chicken or meat, if possible, so that it is indeed a main course. You can alter this by using cut-up chicken instead of the sausage, if you prefer. All that is needed to accompany the pasta course is a fresh green salad.
A good quality bottled tomato marinara sauce helps to cut the cooking time, and the pesto adds a snappy layering of flavor to the sauce.
Spicy sausage and the addition of fresh spinach give the pasta color and a fresh, light counterpoint of flavor.
A robust Zinfandel or Chianti would make a nice beverage choice. For dessert? Pick up some red and blue cookies from your bakery so all will be represented.
• Place the baking dish on a cookie sheet to avoid dripping on the oven.
• Bake the pasta in a wide, shallow baking dish so there is more topping.
• This can be prepared 2 days ahead through step 4, covered and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator 1/2 hour before baking. (It may need a few more minutes to bake if it is cold.)
• Drain the pasta while it is still firm to the bite since it will continue to cook as it bakes.
• Bake the pasta uncovered so the top will brown.
• Divide this mixture into 2 smaller baking dishes and freeze one for future use.
Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking and the author of “Seriously Simple Parties.” www.seriouslysimple.com