9/5/07 | Penne Pasta Casserole
[ Currently Eating: Homemade Mac Salad ]
Man. That was a seriously bad heat wave we had here in Southern California over the holiday weekend. Without the benefits of central air, we were forced to hole up in one room with the air conditioner on. It didn’t help much that our internet connection was spotty, so there was nothing to do but watch TV.
I’ve been meaning to get another 3 Dollars or Less recipe up. I’m going to admit that you can subtract ingredients easily to get this under the magic limit. I went over the 3 dollar limit, but I’m sure others are able to make it even cheaper so I’m still going to keep this recipe in that category. This is a recipe for the ubiquitous and easy Penne Pasta Casserole. Basically, add spaghetti sauce to cooked noodles in a baking dish, top with cheese and bake it in the oven.
Penne Pasta Casserole
1 26oz can spaghetti sauce (Hunt’s, etc.) — $1.00
1/2 med. yellow onion — $0.20
1 tbsp e.v. olive oil — $0.05
2-3 cloves minced garlic — $0.07
1/2 box dry penne or other pasta– $0.50
1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped — $0.20
1 cup grated cheddar — $0.40
1/3 lb ground beef or italian sausage – $1.00
salt, pepper, sugar — negligible
Get a pot of salted water going. Over low heat in a large skillet, add some olive oil, onion, garlic and a pinch of salt and sweat / simmer that until translucent (you can keep adding some water to prevent it from drying out). Remove to a plate. Add the ground beef and/or italian sausage (casing removed) and brown that. Drain it, return to pan with onion mixture. Add spaghetti sauce, and cook on low stirring occasionally for about 10-15 min. Add chopped basil (and any other herbs or veggies at this point). You may want to alter the flavor with salt, pepper and sugar depending on your spaghetti sauce.
When water boils, add the penne and UNDERCOOK it. How much depends on you and your oven. I just know you don’t need to cook it all the way because it’s going in the oven. When done to your liking, drain pasta and rinse it in cold water, if you like. I know they say not to rinse it, but because it’s a casserole I feel the noodles benefit a bit from a dunk.
Combine spaghetti sauce mixture and noodles together in the pot. In a shallow baking dish (flatter, shallower allows for more cheese browning area – if you like that.) Top with cheese, bake at 350F for about 30-45 minutes. You might want to cover lightly with aluminum foil until the last 10 minutes. You can also blast it in the broiler if you like the top extra crunchy.
There are literally endless varieties of this type of casserole – and most qualify as Cheap Eats. The only necessary ingredients are pasta, spaghetti sauce, and meat – although I’m sure if you’re vegetarian you can omit or replace that one. If you consider just the basic ingredients, then this comes out at about $2.50.
One of the reasons it might be ok to skip the onions, herbage and other things is because these prepared $1 cans of Hunt’s sauces actually come in different flavors with all the necessary stuff added in – there’s a mushroom variety, a basil variety and various others. But I like to add a little bit of extra stuff, especially since I usually have 1/2 white onion leftover from previous meals.
I only use basil if we have it around, and sometimes substitute some parsley for it. One other possible addition is leftover sliced mushrooms. I’ve made it with cooked carrots, zucchini and canned beans before. Adding 1/2 can of Great Northern beans is a particularly interesting combination.
For pasta, I used mostaciolli here, but you can use penne, farfalle, or any other shorter pasta. I try not to use longer spaghetti-type noodles because it makes it difficult to serve. We always have boxes of pasta ready to go – I buy them when they’re on sale for a dollar or less.
I actually like a combination of ground beef and italian sausage. We usually get about 1 1/3 lbs of ground beef, cut it into quarters, wrap individually in plastic wrap, and freeze for later usage in a ziploc. Same goes for the italian sausage – buy it in bulk at CostCo and freeze individually in packets of 2-3 each. To use – defrost only what you need. For the meat-atarians, 1/3 lb is probably not enough. But that’s usually good enough for me.
You don’t even need to add any cheese on the top at all. But I’ve found that if you don’t, the top of the noodles poking out of the casserole tend to get a bit too crunchy. The cheese helps as a barrier. I tend to go with cheddar or jack cheese, even though I know mozzarella is more traditional for this type of casserole. Sometimes I sprinkle the top with a bit of parmesan cheese for extra oomph. Yes, I do like thee cheese.
I know you can get even cheaper by making your own sauce – though it’s kind of difficult to beat $1 for the Hunt’s when it’s on sale. I like canned Hunt’s because it is cheap, not overly sweet and has an average flavor balance as far as herbs and onion taste goes.
Cheap Eats Score: 9/10