Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tortellini Spinach Bake in Creamy Lemon Sauce

Fall is rapidly approaching and with that crisp, cool weather also comes all that delicious and filling food.  Comfort food and fall easily go hand in hand.  When I think of comfort foods one of the first things my mind automatically goes to is starchy goodness, like pasta.  I love noodles, shells, and stuffed pasta for so many reasons.  First, because they are incredibly delicious.  They are a blank canvas waiting to soak up any sauce you add or any soup you spoon over it.  Secondly, they are incredibly easy to incorporate into any meal and it takes little to no time to cook.

Lately I've been craving starch and carbs, which I'm not sure why because I typically don't when the weather is swealtering, but that's what I was craving.  When I came across this recipe on our best bites; it realed me in and it was exactly what I had been craving.  I mean how can you go wrong with pasta, cheese and bacon?  You can't, right?  Right!  I mean all of these things alone are delicious, and combined they just become a triple threat! 
This dish was incredibly easy to put together.  I mean we're talking from stove top, to oven to table in less than an hour.  You can't beat that!  It starts by cooking a simple cheese stuffed tortellini, which takes no time.  The pasta is combined with bacon and then coated with a delicious, yet basic cheese sauce.  The mixture goes into a casserole dish, is topped by more cheese and a tad more bacon then popped into the oven until it's bubbly and golden brown.  The end result is gooey and cheesy, while the addition of fresh basil, lemon juice and zest adds a nice pop and freshness to the dish.  This meal was definitely a crowd pleaser and will be a regular on our menu for quite some time.  We enjoyed this as our meal with a green salad and a piece of crusty bread, but it would also make a wonderful side dish.            

Tortellini Spinach Bake in Creamy Lemon Sauce

1 12oz package cheese stuffed tortellini, dried or in the refrigerated section
5 Slices bacon
3 Cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 Cups milk
1/2 Cup half and half
3/4 Tsp Kosher salt
1/4 Tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1/4 Tsp red pepper flakes
1 (8oz) package frozen spinach, thawed and strained
3/4 Cup grated mozzerella cheese, divided
3/4 Cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
1 Medium lemon


Preheat oven to 350.  Lightly spray a 9x9 casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside. 

Fill a large stockpot with water, place over high heat and bring to a boil.  Cook pasta according to package directions; reserver 2 cups of water then drain the pasta.

Place bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until bacon is cooked thoroughly and is crispy.  Place cooked bacon on a paper towel lined plate and set aside.  Reserve 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings and discard the rest.  When bacon is cool enough to handle, roughly chop or crumble (using your hands) and set aside. 

Place the reserved bacon grease in the pan, place over low-medium heat and add the garlic.  Cook until fragarent, about 1 minute.  Then add the flour and whisk to combine, about a minute.  Very slowly, stream in the milk and half and half, whisking constantly until the mixture is smooth.  Add salt, pepper, basil and red pepper flakes to the mixture and stir to combine.  Allow the mixture to come to a simmer. 

Meanwhile, using a microplane, zest the lemon.  Once the lemon is zested, cut in half and squeeze over a cup to remove the juice.  Add the zest and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to the sauce and stir to combine.*  Continue stirring the sauce until thickened, about 2-3 minutes. 

Reserve 1 tablespoon of the crumbled bacon, and add the rest to the pasta.  To the pasta add spinach, 1/2 cup mozzerella, 1/2 cup parmesan, and sauce and stir gently to combine.  Pour the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish and top with the remaining parmesan cheese, mozzerella, and bacon.  Cover the pan with foil and place in the preheated oven and allow to bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue baking for an additional 5-10 minutes, until cheese is golden and bubbly.  Remove from oven and allow to set for 10 minutes before serving.        

*You may adjust the amount of lemon zest and lemon juice according to your taste.  I enjoy lemon and a strong lemon flavor so I added quite a bit of zest and juice.
*The could easily be made into a vegetarian meal by simply omitting the bacon. 

Recipe source: slightly adapted from Our Best Bites

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tortellini is my daughter's favorite meal, especially with cream sauce. I love the addition of bacon (since it makes everything better), some brightness from the lemon and I would even get to sneak in some spinach. Perfect!

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