I’m baaaaaccckkk!! Are you excited?! I’m so flippin’ happy to don my TRB apron again and start bringing you all of the yummy fall content I’ve been cooking up. As for my “hiatus,” let’s just say life got in the way — but, a big career move and relocation to a more peaceful setting have put me back in the saddle, er, kitchen.
Know what also has me smiling? It finally feels like autumn. Temps are dropping and skies are gray, and it’s the perfect time to start whipping up some comfort food for hibernation season. I’ve been doing a ton of shopping at Trader Joe’s lately. Let’s be real, they have the best products in the fall. I’m not sure about you, but grocery shopping is one of the few things that has kept me going during the pandemic, and I’m grateful to be able to go back to the store and pick my own produce. I have to say, though, when I was placing orders with Whole Foods, Daily Harvest, Sunbasket, and a range of other meal prep providers last year, my heart (and waistline) expanded with each delivery.
Back to Trader Joe’s. I’ve been sampling many of the fall products — and loving them. An unexpected winner is the Autumnal Harvest Creamy Pasta Sauce. I’m not a huge fan of jar sauce; I much prefer to make my own. So, I was skeptical going in, but had an inkling this shortcut would come in handy in crafting a fall-tastic spin on a comfort food classic. I “doctored” the sauce with ground beef, mushrooms, garlic, and onion and, friends, it did not disappoint. I also used Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Penne and Quattro Formaggio Cheese Blend. (If you haven’t tried it, it’s one of my absolute favorite finds in the entire store!) To reduce the amount of dairy in this recipe, I skipped the ricotta mixture traditionally found in baked ziti. You could totally add it, and I’m sure it would be even more delicious! For my vegetarian friends, you can easily omit the ground beef; the mushrooms mimic the texture of a bolognese sauce and you won’t miss the meat. All in all, this quick and easy dinner comes together in around 45 minutes and satisfies cravings for fall flavors and the ooey gooey texture of baked ziti.
1 jar Trader Joe’s Autumnal Harvest Creamy Pasta Sauce
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. organic lean ground beef (optional)
1 package sliced baby bella mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small onion diced
1 tbsp. basil
salt & pepper to taste
3/4 bag Quattro Formaggio Cheese blend
1/2 lb. brown rice penne pasta (cooked) / or use your favorite pasta
2-3 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese (for sprinkling over top)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook pasta, drain and set aside until ready to assemble. (If using brown rice pasta, take care not to overcook and leave in water until ready to assemble. Experience has taught me it tends to stick together like glue if you drain it…)
2. Prepare sauce: In a heavy bottomed skillet, saute garlic, onion and ground beef in olive oil. Add salt, pepper and basil. (If using higher fat content beef, carefully drain most of the grease). Once the beef has browned, add the mushrooms and allow them to cook down. Add a touch more salt and pepper, and let the sauce and simmer for 5-10 minutes until heated through.
3. Toss the cooked pasta with most of the sauce. Reserve some for the bottom of the dish and for serving.
4. Spread a spoonful of sauce onto the bottom of an 8×8 baking dish. Add 1/2 the pasta and top with a few handfuls of the cheese mixture. Repeat with the remaining pasta and cheese. Sprinkle parmesan over top.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is browned and bubbly. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before dishing up — if you can wait that long!
6. Top with extra sauce and cheese, if desired.
Here’s how it looks when it comes together: