Spinach Artichoke Fusilli
I like a baked pasta casserole as much as the next guy, especially in the winter. A lot of casseroles have a built in issue though that makes them hard to make in a reasonable amount of time: The Double Cook.
What I mean is that you frequently have to cook everything in the casserole, mix it all together, then cook it again in the oven. Generally, this is fine if you can plan a bit in advance because you can make the casserole up to the baking point and then stick it in the oven ahead of dinner time.
But, it’s always good to have a backup plan if you forgot or just want something casserole-like without the double cook effort.
This fusilli pasta is my new favorite way to mimic a casserole without turning on the oven. I’ve also used this method recently for a chicken noodle casserole I whipped up for the Macheesmo Meal plans last week. The trick is to make the pasta creamy in the pot, with just enough sauce to hold everything together, then top it with super-crunchy breadcrumbs!
It’s the perfect mix of fast, hearty, and warming. This version is on the table in about 45 minutes max and I promise you’ll love it.
1) Rinse spinach and chop off any large stems. Mince garlic. Drain and roughly chop artichoke hearts.
2) Cook fusilli pasta in salted water according to directions until al dente. Be sure not to overcook pasta or the dish will be soggy.
3) In a Dutch oven or heavy large pot, add 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Then add garlic and cook for a minute. Add rinsed spinach and stir to wilt spinach. Once spinach is wilted, remove it.
4) Add other three tablespoons olive oil and artichokes. Cook until they get some color on them, 3-4 minutes. Then scoot artichokes to one side of the pan and stir in flour to the oil. Cook for a minute.
5) Slowly whisk in milk until the a sauce is formed. Let the sauce come to a slight simmer, stirring regularly, and let it thicken.
6) Add in ricotta cheese, cooked fusilli, and wilted spinach. Season the pasta well with salt and pepper. Serve pasta immediately with spicy crunchy breadcrumbs.
For breadcrumbs: Heat butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Once melted, add breadcrumbs and stir to combine. Cook for 2-3 minutes until breadcrumbs start to brown. Season with red pepper flakes and remove from heat when breadcrumbs are lightly browned. Watch them closely as they can burn easily.
Each bowl of this finished pasta gets a big mound of crispy, slightly spicy breadcrumbs.
To make them just melt about a tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Once the butter is melted, stir in about a cup of panko breadcrumbs and season it with some red pepper flakes. Stir this and let it cook until the crumbs start to brown slightly.
Watch it closely so they don’t burn and remove them from the heat when they are toasted nicely. These are so addictive!
Making the Pasta
This is a really delicious pasta that has one of my favorite flavor combos: spinach and artichoke.
Oh… and a lot of garlic. Start with the garlic in a drizzle of oil in a Dutch oven. Let this cook for just a minute over medium heat.
Then add about two full bunches of adult spinach. Chop off some of the big stems and toss them in. It’ll look like your pot is full. It isn’t.
After a minute or two of stirring, you’ll have some serious spinach shrinkage.
Remove the spinach from the pot and add another drizzle of olive oil if the pot is dry. Add the chopped artichoke hearts and try to get some color on them. They should just get lightly browned around the edges after 3-4 minutes of cooking.
Now for the sauce building!
Scootch the artichokes to one side of the pan and add the flour. If the pot is dry, add more olive oil until the flour makes a light paste. It should bubble a lot and look like this.
Then whisk in the milk in a slow stream and heat until the sauce is nice and thick. Start with about 2 1/2 cups of milk, but if the mixture is too thick, add a bit more milk.
Then add in the ricotta! I really like this instead of a heavier cheese. We are going for creamy instead of cheesy if that makes sense.
Once the ricotta has melted in, stir in the cooked and drained fusilli pasta and the wilted spinach from earlier. Season the pasta with salt and pepper to your liking.
This is ready to go!
Serve the pasta in big bowls with a handful of the breadcrumbs.
Pretty hard to beat on a cold night!