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Summer Bounty Pasta Bake with Fresh Homemade Tomato-Basil Sauce

August 25, 2014

Summer Bounty Rigatoni Bake 3 | Espresso and Cream
As I’ve grown in my faith over the years, I’ve learned more and more that what we get in this life (both good and bad) is so rarely directly related to how many good works we do or how many times we stumble and make mistakes along the way. Of course that’s not to say that when we make mistakes there aren’t consequences, but I think that subconsciously I’ve lived with the mentality that if I do enough good in this world, then good things would happen to me.

Along the way I’ve realized that this simply isn’t true and that God doesn’t work on a system of tallies and check marks on a to-do chart. Our stories are mapped out by Him with purpose and intention, specifically designed to grow us in different ways.

This past year has been difficult, filled with lots of tears and more than my fair share of fearful moments. Many times along the way I asked God, “Why not us? Why don’t we get a baby like so many other people? Why do we have to lose our little ones?” But now that we’ve been blessed with this little miracle baby, I’ve been overwhelmed with feelings I didn’t expect. More than a couple times I’ve broken down in tears asking God, “Why me? Why do we get this miracle?” I feel so incredibly undeserving of this gift God’s given us and of the prayers people have prayed on our behalf.

Summer Bounty Rigatoni Bake 1 | Espresso and Cream
I guess my garden is an appropriate example of how you don’t always get what you “deserve” in life. We’ve given our little garden everything it needs to grow and be fruitful, including plenty of water and weeding and the like, and yet our harvest has been completely disappointing. Just a handful of zucchini and yellow squash, no peppers, the rabbits ate our green beans and our spaghetti squash never came up.

Thankfully our tomato plants have done relatively well and we’ve just started experiencing the overflow of tomatoes from our garden. I can’t tell you how many batches of this homemade tomato-basil sauce I’ve made (maybe 4 or 5 in the last handful of weeks?) but it’s quickly become a staple in our house, transforming even the most basic pasta dish into something special.

When I served this baked rigatoni pasta to Joe last week, his eyes lit up and he quickly declared this one of the best things I’ve ever made. Considering how much I’ve cooked for him over the years, that’s saying something, friends. An added bonus? It’s easy to prep this dish in advance, cover and then cook it up when you get home from work at the end of the day!

Summer Bounty Pasta Bake with Fresh Homemade Tomato-Basil Sauce
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • Fresh Tomato-Basil Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups seeded and chopped Roma tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (my cloves were on the larger side)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons chopped fresh basil
  • ¾ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • ¾ teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • Pasta Bake
  • 2 cups rigatoni pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped into small pieces
  • 4 oz feta cheese, cut into small cubes
  • 2 cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or 1 cup shredded rotisserie chicken)
  • ½ cup shredded Italian cheese blend
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Heat oven to 350F. Spray an 8x8-inch baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.
  2. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add in the tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, sugar and herbs. Simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 to 15 minutes or until the tomatoes are completely broken up and the sauce begins to thicken slightly. Remove from heat and stir in the cream.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the pasta, tomato sauce, zucchini, feta cheese and chicken. Spoon into prepared baking dish. Top with the Italian cheese blend and grated Parmesan cheese.
  4. Bake 20 to 22 minutes or until cheese is melted and zucchini is tender. Spoon into bowls to serve.



Quick Spinach Manicotti

December 9, 2010

If you are anything like me, you’re a little crunched for time. Whether you’re a mom trying to meal-plan for the week, a student preparing for finals or an editor planning a wedding – time is tight.

During the weeknight, after a trip to the gym and a shower, I rely on meals like this. It’s enough to feed a family one night or a couple people for multiple nights. Me? I ate my way through this over the course of a week since I have no problem with eating the same thing night after night. And, like lasagna, it tastes better the second and third times.

And did I mention this dish is easy? Cook the pasta, stir together the ricotta and chopped spinach, fill the pasta, top with marinara and bake. Paired with a side salad this meal may very well get me through the winter. 

Quick Spinach Manicotti
From Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food 
(Printable Recipe)

*8 manicotti shells
*1 (15-oz.) container light ricotta cheese
*1 cup grated Parmesan cheese 
*1 (8-oz.) pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained of excess moisture
*1/2 tsp. salt
*1/4 tsp. black pepper
*1 tsp. dried basil
*2 cups marinara sauce
*1/4 cup Parmesan cheese


*Preheat oven to 375°F. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta shells according to package instructions. Drain well and arrange in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan and spinach. Season filling with salt and pepper.
*Transfer filling to a large zip-top plastic bag. Twist and squeeze bag so filling is in one corner. With scissors, snip a 3/4-inch opening in corner. Pipe filling into both ends of each pasta shell. Arrange stuffed shells in an 8-inch square glass baking dish.
*In a medium bowl, whisk together marinara sauce and oregano. Pour sauce evenly over shells and top with 1/2 cup Parmesan. Bake until sauce in center of dish is bubbling and Parmesan is browned in spots, about 30 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before serving.

Happy Cooking!


Zucchini Parmesan

September 19, 2009

Yesterday, I made a trip to the farmer’s market in Valley Junction. There’s something about wandering through a bustling farmer’s market that I find therapeutic. Typically I avoid large crowds like the plague. But living in Iowa, I have learned how very important it is to savor the last few weeks of warm weather before mother nature’s mood turns frosty.

Weaving through the stands and trucks lining Valley Junction’s Main Street, I had the sudden urge to eat vegetables, and lots of them. For a moment, while looking at a crate of heirloom tomatoes, I thought I could live life a happy vegetarian. That moment came to an abrupt end when I smelled the wafting aromas of tacos and fajitas being sold down the street.

But as wonderful as it all was, my purpose is not to give a complete review of the Valley Junction Farmer’s Market. I intended to talk about dinner tonight: Zucchini Parmesan. Vegetables in my kitchen are usually prepared with nothing more than a bit of butter or olive oil, salt, and pepper. Zucchini demands a different treatment. Long adored by Italian cooks, I felt the best way to do this squash justice was to coat slices in Parmesan cheese and layer it with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese.

*2 medium zucchini – thinly sliced into strips
*2 large eggs – lightly beaten
*1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
*1 cup marinara sauce
*1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

*Preheat oven to 375F.
*Dip slices of zucchini in beaten egg, then coat in Parmesan cheese. Layer half of coated zucchini slices in 8×8 baking dish. Evenly spread half of marinara sauce over zucchini, followed by remaining zucchini, remaining marinara sauce, and mozzarella cheese.
*Bake in oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until zucchini is tender. During last 3 minutes of baking, switch oven to broil. Remove from oven. Allow to rest 5 minutes, then cut into slices.

Though this dish could easily stand on its own, I supplemented my Zucchini Parmesan with boneless, skinless chicken breast for a bit of protein. After cutting the chicken breast into slices, I cooked them in a skillet with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until no pink remained, about 6 to 8 minutes.

So for those of you who live in a state where warm weather weekends are coming to an close, get out to your local farmer’s market and be inspired by the last bit of summer produce.


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