The weather turned very cold for a couple of days last week so I wanted to spice things up. An easy dinner to make is a baked penne dish. I decided to make a Cajun Spiced Baked Penne. It can be made with or without a sausage. Options are a chicken sausage, Andouille sausage, hot Italian sausage or a vegetarian sausage or just leave it out. Adding in additional vegetables will also up the nutritional value (it’s not low calorie after all). I used Barilla Protein Pasta to have a bit more protein. Banza Pasta is another great option. I would usually use Banza, since it has less carbohydrates and more protein, but I was out of it. Barilla Protein Pasta comes in a close second. It comes together quickly, bakes up to a bubbly, crispy dinner. It will warm you up 🌶️
You can include the sausage or leave it out. Some vegetarian sausage options are Field Roast, Beyond Beef, Impossible or other brands. You can also add additional vegetables-zucchini, more spinach or other veggies of your choice. If you add zucchini or additional spinach-cook it first to remove the excess moisture.
1 package Barilla Protein Penne Pasta or Banza Penne Pasta (Ziti also works)
1 cup Baby Spinach
1 lb Mushrooms sliced (you can cook the mushrooms and spinach first to remove the excess moisture)
1 -14 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 jar Alfredo Sauce (I like Rao’s but any brand works)
8 ounces shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
6 ounces shredded Parmesan cheese
2 ounces grated cheddar
1 cup pasta water
4 tablespoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons dried basil
1 teaspoons salt (3-4 grinds of salt grinder)
1/2 teaspoon pepper (2 grinds of pepper grinder)
2 tablespoons Cajun spice (I use Slap Ya Mama) – more or less to taste (use less if you use Andouille sausage as it’s also spicy)
Regular or Vegetarian Sausage Option 2 links of chicken sausage (your choice-I use Aidell’s). Any flavor-Andouille, apple, Italian or regular hot Italian sausage, Vegetarian Sausage (Field Roast, Beyond Beef, Impossible or other brand)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a 13” x 9” pan with cooking spray.
Cook the pasta according to the directions. Cook it (salt water slightly) for a minute less than the package. Reserve a cup of pasta water. Drain
If you prefer it a little dryer-cook the vegetables first and add less pasta water.
Slice the sausage into small pieces. Add to pasta, add mushrooms, spinach, spices and Alfredo sauce. Mix well, add some of the pasta water to make it a little thinner. Add half of the cheese and mix. Finish the top with the rest of the cheese.
Bake for 45-60 minutes until the top is brown and edges are crispy.
Sprinkle with extra Cajun spice when serving if you need to heat it up further.
Serve with a salad, extra steamed vegetables and some crusty Italian bread. Enjoy!