Thursday, November 19, 2009

Lamb Penne Bake

I love casseroles about as much as I love soups. And when either of those includes pasta I'm about as happy as it gets! So this week when I needed a cheap meal I could cook for the week that wasn't bean soup, I turned to a classic pasta bake. There's about a million pasta bakes that this could be based on. This is my take based on my love for adding veggies to spaghetti and my obsession with subbing lamb for beef.


Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
Red Pepper flakes
splash of merlot
Ground Lamb
Whole Wheat Penne
Tony Chacherie's/Emeril's Essence
Garlic salt
Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce
Italian seasoning


Start out in a skillet with olive oil. Slice onions thinly and stir into skillet coating with the olive oil. Salt onions so that the onions sweat.

Now add the zucchini to the skillet. Salt, pepper and add the red pepper flakes. Stir and saute until they just begin to carmelize.

Now I LOVE garlic, so I put in 4 cloves. You can certainly decrease that to taste. Chop the garlic and add to the skillet. The trick here is to not burn the garlic. Many recipes tell you to add the garlic to the onions as they are sweating. The problem is that garlic burns easily and once garlic burns, it is bitter. So I add my garlic nearer the end. In this case, once I noticed the onion an zucchini carmelizing, I stirred well and added the garlic to the top of the veggies. I did not stir. I just let the garlic hang out on top and kind of steam. Then when it was time to stir because the mixture had carmelized more, that's when the garlic started saute'ing.

This is what the carmelization should look like. Once everything looks like this, it's time to transfer the veggies to the glass pan, so we can use the skillet for the lamb. Once the veggies are in the glass pan, splash a little red wine in and stir. And I really do mean just a splash. Ordinarily you would put the wine into the skillet and use it to deglaze the pan, but I'm using cast iron. I don't want to deglaze my pan. So I added it as a touch after the transfer.

After you've transferred the veggies, you are ready to cook the lamb. Don't wash the skillet, use whatever is left in the skillet to flavor the meat. Add more oil and then the lamb. Salt, Pepper, garlic salt, and Tony Chacherie's is added. Then the lamb is browned.

While the lamb is browning, bring a pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta until Al Dente.

This is how the lamb looks as it is browning. You can stop here, but I prefer to cook until some pieces have a crust.

See how browned these pieces are? This is a personal preference. Play with the dish and cook to your taste.

Once the lamb is browned to your satisfaction, mix penne and lamb with the zucchini, onions and garlic in a glass baking dish.

Now it's time to add the spaghetti sauce. I cheated and used jarred. But next time I want to use homemade.

Grate the fresh mozzerella and mix into the dish like so.

Then grate more mozzerella onto the top and load into an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Then bake until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is melted.

This is what the bake looks like once all the cheese is melted. I would have finished the dish off in the broiler to get a good brown on the cheese, however, the pasta pieces sticking out were beginning to over cook, so I went ahead and took it out.

I was hoping this would set up and allow me to cut out my serving like a lasagna. But I don't think I put in enough cheese for it to do that. On one hand, that means my portions don't present solidly when served, but on the other, tons of cheese means tons of extra fat. And more expense since cheese isn't exactly cheap.

As is, my serving just kind of glopped out on my plate. But Man was it good! It didn't need any extra cheese. The only thing I think I would change is I would add some sliced portabella mushrooms to the mix and I would probably add a little more cheese to the top so the pasta is covered. Then I could either leave it in longer or finish it off in the broiler for browning the cheese topping. This is one of those dishes, like lasagna, that will get better as it sits. It was lovely right out of the oven, but as I sat and took my time with it, the flavors seemed to get more prominent near the end of the meal. I think it will be absolutely Heavenly by tomorrow!

To accompany my dish, I had this Castle Rock Merlot. This particular Castle Rock was perfect with the meal. It was subtle and yet hit all the right notes to compliment the tomato sauce and spice. And in fact, it was also the wine I splashed into the dish once the veggies went into the glass dish so it was utilized on both sides of the meal.

This dish is quite a simple one to make, however, it did take quite a bit of time seeing as how I insisted on using the same skillet for the lamb and veggies. Had I used two separate skillets, my time would have been reduced quite a bit. I am not a fan of dishwashing, though, so I much prefer to use as few dishes as possible!

Pasta bakes, like casseroles, make great leftovers. They also freeze well. This is one of those dishes that you could cook in bulk over the weekend and freeze in small portions for when you just need a TV dinner because you don't feel like cooking.