Last week, Brad and I ditched the frigid cold and hearty baked pasta dishes of Chicago (well, it hasn’t actually been that cold but for storytelling purposes, the winter has been long and arduous) and traded it for a week in Arizona for warm weather and delicious fish tacos alongside prickly pair margaritas.
We had some really wonderful meals (there will be more on that later), but one thing they all had in common was fresh, local ingredients.
Because Arizona isn’t a dark, gray, cloudy cave of depression from January until usually sometime in mid-May, they actually produce all kinds of good stuff there, from beef to citrus to olive oil. One of the best dishes we had was the first night we arrived, a simple plate of prosciutto topped with blood orange and grapefruit segments and a dusting of what I think was fried thyme. So simple and so good.
I am really looking forward to spring when there is an abundance of fresh produce from the farms in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana. We live right around the corner from the farmer’s market in Wicker Park and even though Brad and I affectionately refer to Sundays as “fat kid day” I think we’re both ready for the lighter meals that spring and summer bring to the table.
This pasta is a good bridge between winter and spring. Or even fall and winter but today it’s March so let’s go with that. With fresh lemon and spinach, plus a little Parmigiano-Reggiano adding flavor without a whole ton of fat, it’s hearty enough for chilly nights and light enough to keep you looking forward to warmer weather.
- 10 ounce casarecce pasta or fusilli (short twisted spaghetti)
- 1 (5-ounce) package fresh baby spinach
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cups chopped onion
- 1.1 ounces all-purpose flour (about ¼ cup)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2½ cups 1% low-fat milk
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 cup (4 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
- 1 cup (4 ounces) white cheddar cheese
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon grated lemon rind
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Cooking spray
- ¾ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), divided
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Cook pasta in boiling water for 8 minutes or until almost al dente, omitting salt and fat. Remove from heat; stir in spinach. Let stand for 2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Drain pasta mixture well.
- Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion; cook 15 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Add flour and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly with a whisk. Gradually add milk and wine; cook 8 minutes or until sauce boils and thickens, stirring constantly. Stir in ¾ cup cheese, salt, and rind. Remove from heat; stir in pepper. Add pasta mixture to onion mixture, and toss gently to coat.
- Spoon the pasta mixture into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle half of panko breadcrumbs over pasta, and top evenly with remaining ¼ cup cheese. Sprinkle the remaining half of panko breadcrumbs over cheese. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes or until browned and bubbly.