This is one of my favorite go-to meals, especially if unexpected company stops by… which happens frequently at my house. If your pantry is regularly stocked with an assortment of dried pastas and a few fresh garden vegetables (or even better – you have a vegetable garden in your yard!) you can whip this up on the spot… an hour’s time max!
Yields: 4-6 main course servings / 8-10 side dish servings
1 lb Fusilli or Rotini noodles (uncooked – I use Barilla Plus)
3-4 links Sweet Italian Sausage (optional)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
1 medium zucchini squash
1 medium yellow squash
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 cup asparagus tips
1 small sweet onion
1 medium red tomato (seeded – rind only)
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
1 pinch each of what I call The Italian Big 5 (dried): thyme, basil, sage, oregano, rosemary
1.5 tablespoon kosher salt (divided)
1 teaspoon pepper as needed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
This is where your veggie chopping skills come in. I’m going to list how I chop my vegetables for this dish, but change it up to your own preference!
Zucchini – trim ends and then chop whole zucchini into three 1.5″-2″ rounds. Then take each round and quarter length-wise.
Yellow Squash – slice into 1/8″ dials. If the squash is fairly fat at the end (more than 1.5″) cut dials in half. The goal is bite-size.
Red & Green Bell Peppers – I cut them julienne. Which is a fancy word for skinny strips. Simply trim top and bottom off pepper and discard. Core and remove seeds and spines. Then slices in 1/4″ slivers about 1.5″ long.
Asparagus – I use just the tips because often the center can be a little woody if not cooked long enough. I cut the tips off about 2″ in. Then I reserve the remainder of the stalk for making soups or purees.
Sweet Onion – peel and dice finely… this should be for flavor and not something you want bite-size.
Garlic – same as the onion above.
Tomato – Slice in half and core out seeds and spines. We just want the fleshy part. Cut into 1″ chunks.
Ready To Cook?
Put a large pot of water on medium heat. Drizzle olive oil and add a tablespoon of salt to the water. I use a good amount of salt when cooking pasta… I’ve heard your water should taste like the ocean when you’re done. Infusing your pasta with salt is better than adding salt to your meal later.
Once your water comes to a boil add your pasta and continue cooking until it’s just shy of al dente. Remember, it’s going to cook a little more in the oven so we don’t want to overdo it. I prefer to use the fasilli or rotini noodles because the corkscrew shape holds the seasonings best… but feel free to use whatever your favorite pasta is – I’ve used to bowtie with this as well, which makes for a festive looking dish.
Next, if adding Italian sausage to this dish, you’ll want to start by taking the casings off of the links. In a large skillet using a wooden spoon, break sausage into small bite-size pieces. Cook over medium heat until browned. You won’t need to worry if they’re completely cooked because they’ll be going in the oven soon and will finish off nicely. Be careful not to overcook. Roughly 3-4 minutes should do it. The recipe calls for 3-4 links, but most packages come with 5 links. So, if you’re like me… you’ll want to cook all 5 to compensate for all the “taste-testing” you’ll do.
Using the same skillet (don’t clean it – you want all those great flavors!), pour in 1/4 cup of olive oil. While bringing it to a medium heat toss in The Italian Big 5 (dried thyme, basil, sage, oregano, rosemary). Once your oil is ready (it sizzles with a drop of water), gently add in your onion and garlic first. Stir well so that the dried herbs are worked through the oil, onions and garlic. Saute for 3 minutes then slowly add the veggies in this order (based on cooking time): Peppers, asparagus, zucchini, squash. Reserve the tomato, which won’t be added until ready to bake. Pour the 1/4 cup of white wine over veggies and continue sauteing for 5-6 minutes or until the zucchini has become tender and can easily be stabbed with a fork.
Drain pasta and transfer to a large baking dish (a lasagna dish works best). Add sausage. Add diced tomatoes. Then pour all the contents from your skillet over the pasta and sausage, including olive oil/wine reduction that’s happened in the pan while sauteing. This is going to be the sauce. TIP: If your pan has become too dry while sauteing, you may have overcooked your veggies. Just add more olive oil and a splash of white wine and de-glaze the bottom of your pan. Add that to your pasta-veggie mix.
Immediately add 2 tablespoons of butter so it can melt. Add half of your Parmesan cheese and mix thoroughly until everything is coated and you can see that the herbs are distributed evenly.
Taste your dish to see if additional salt and pepper is needed. TIP: Don’t assume it needs salt – the sausage and salted pasta may have added plenty. Always taste your food before seasoning!
Sprinkle top with remaining grated Parmesan and bake uncovered on middle rack for 20 minutes (or until cheese starts to brown at edges).
TIP: If making extra to freeze for later, do not bake the portion you want freeze. Freeze after it’s cooled. Should last in freezer up to a month.
The Perfect Bite
This is one of my favorite kind of dishes to get a perfect bite from. I love stacking my fork with a twirly little noodle, a juicy piece of sausage, a buttery bite of zucchini and sweet sliver of red pepper. Oh, my mouth is watering just thinking about it! I love the nutty Parmesan and lightness of this invisible sauce.
The Perfect Pairing
This is a great summer dish so I prefer to pair it with a chilled glass of wine. Now, I’ve long since been a rosé snob. Pink wine? Really? My mind immediately goes to that giant box of Almaden Pink Blush Chablis that sits warm on the edge of my mom’s kitchen counter. Sorry Mom, but really?
However, rosé has come a long way… and I’m starting to warm up to them… well, at least when they’re chilled (again Mom, really?). Try pairing this dish with this French Rosé Note Bleue Cotôs De Provence Rosé 2009 – it’s sweet and earthy. A perfect compliment to the buttery pasta and veggies and peppery sausage. Served chilled, about 47 degrees.
The Perfect Health
Using Barilla Plus, reduces carbs and adds protein to any meal. It’s made from legumes such as Chickpeas and Lentils as well as Egg Whites, Spelt, Barley, Flaxseed, Oat Fiber, and Oats. Be sure check the box for cooking instructions – Barilla Plus can take longer to boil. Unlike many wheat or whole grain pastas that taste a little, well, cardboardy. This one is delicious! And I’ve found it holds up better in soups (as in, doesn’t swell and get mushy). Read more here about its nutritional value.