Sometimes you just want to have fun – even in the kitchen. That’s where I was the other day. I don’t really know how to explain it, but I was just tired of cooking healthy and wanted to have a little fun. Now, I’m not insinuating that healthy food can’t be fun; it can. But most often, my intent is food that is delicious, appealing, low carb… Fun isn’t usually the goal or a word that is used to describe food. (Is it just me, or are you also humming Cyndi Lauper’s iconic “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” right now?) So, I set out to have some fun in my kitchen. I looked in the fridge and discovered an open package of bacon. Woop-Woop! Great start – bacon definitely qualifies as fun. I also found some unused spinach, partial cartons of grape tomatoes and sliced mushrooms, and a couple of lone green onions. Ok, these will all work. As I was looking to make dinner, I needed a base product. In the pantry, I discovered half a box of rotini. Spiral pasta definitely rates as fun. Also in my pantry was a jar of Alfredo sauce which would absolutely work with everything else.
I now had crunchy (or it would be when I fried up the bacon), lots of colors from the veg, and pasta would be the vessel. I still needed some zing, like the zest from the half lemon in my fruit compartment and some spicy Dijon mustard. Check. Last, I wanted something to make it ooey-gooey. A second look in the fridge revealed a bag of shredded Italian Six-Cheese blend. I also had shredded mozzarella, but Six-blend sounded more “fun.”
I started by baking the bacon on a rack inside a rimmed baking/sheet pan lined with foil. Easy clean-up is a requirement of “fun.” (Even when my goal isn’t fun, easy clean-up is always a requirement in my low-stress world). It takes roughly a half-hour in a 350°F preheated oven to produce crispy results. The bacon is then roughly chopped. I removed the wire rack from the baking sheet/pan, leaving the foil with the baking drippings in it. Turn the oven up to 425°F.
While the bacon was in the oven, I had Alexa play the Beach Boy’s greatest hits (I supposed I should have stuck with Cyndi, but it’s more fun to kitchen dance to the Beach Boys) and prepared the half box of pasta, as per the directions. Most recipes call for al-dente pasta. I guess I’m just not very sophisticated when it comes to pasta. I grew up in the Midwest in a home with a Polish/Czech vibe, and we didn’t eat a whole lot of pasta. I like my pasta soft. Cook your pasta to your desired degree of doneness. There are no rules today! When the pasta is to your liking, drain the pot but reserve a half cup of the pasta water.
I added the spinach and the reserved water to the pasta and stirred it until it became wilted. The other prepped veggies (onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic), the store-bought Alfredo sauce, the lemon zest and mustard, and the bacon are then invited to join the party. Everything gets combined and coated with the sauce. Now, here’s the really fun part, spread the pasta mixture on the baking sheet/pan with the bacon drippings! Oh ya!!! Aren’t I the wild child?
Please don’t get your undies in a knot over this! I don’t usually bake pasta in bacon drippings. It’s not a healthy practice, and it’s definitely not figure-friendly, but everyone once in a while, it’s fun to go rogue and throw nutritional caution to the wind. Pasta flavored with bacon fat is magic! On top of the pasta, sprinkle the shredded cheese (the Italian Six-Cheese Blend is delicious, but any shredded cheese will work.) Let it get happy for about 15 minutes, till the cheese gets melty and golden brown spots begin to appear. Remove from the oven and garnish with the fresh parsley.
You can’t help but smile when you eat this pasta. The juicy tomatoes, the salty bacon, the zesty sauce – every bite is a delight! The best way to describe the taste is “FUN”! Enjoy.
Sheet Pan Pasta with Bacon, Spinach, Mushrooms, and TomatoCourse: MainCuisine: AmericanDifficulty: Easy
This indulgent and satisfying pasta is made with crispy bacon, spinach, mushrooms, and juicy tomatoes is flavored with store-bought alfredo sauce, lemon zest, and mustard for brightness and zing, topped with shredded cheese, and then baked in a sheet pan with the bacon drippings. Fun to make, more fun to eat, and easy to clean-up!
6 bacon slices
8 ounces uncooked rotini pasta (1/2 lb)
4 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped (4 oz.)
1 (15-oz.) jar Alfredo sauce
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
8 oz Mushrooms, sliced
1 glove garlic, minced
Green onion, sliced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1½ cups shredded Italian six-cheese blend
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Prep: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking/sheet pan with aluminum foil and place a wire rack inside it. Rinse spinach (if not pre-washed) and trim stems. Cut grape tomatoes in half. Slice mushrooms. Mince or grate the garlic, zest a lemon, slice the green onions.
- Place bacon on a wire rack set in a 10- x 15-inch rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake in the oven until bacon is crispy, 25 to 30 minutes. Roughly chop; set aside. Reserve bacon drippings in pan; remove wire rack. Increase oven temperature to 425°F.
- While bacon is cooking. Prepare the pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1⁄2 cup cooking water. Return hot pasta to pot. Add spinach and reserved cooking water to pasta; stir until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Add Alfredo sauce, mushrooms, tomatoes, mustard, minced garlic, lemon zest, and bacon; stir to combine.
- Spread pasta mixture in an even layer in the baking sheet/pan with the bacon drippings. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 425°F until cheese is melted and golden brown in spots, about 15 minutes. Garnish with parsley.
- Grape tomatoes: cherry tomatoes can also be used
- Timesaving tips: buy pre-sliced mushrooms and pre-washed baby spinach
- Lemon zest: substitute 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Italian six-cheese blend: substitutes include most shredded cheese including mozzarella, Mexican cheese blends, Colby Jack, Monterey Jack
- Fresh Parsley: substitute dried parsley flakes