I’ve found myself with a little bit of extra free time these days due to required furlough days at work. It’s been a bit rough with the loss in pay, but it’s also bolstered my need to cook at home. You’ll see more recipe posts from me rather than restaurant reviews and I hope you’ll continue to tag along with me!
On my furlough day last week I took it upon myself to make a GIANT pot of marinara sauce. I had two big mason jars full of sauce! I used this marinara sauce for quite a few meals that week, including pasta with meat sauce (just browned ground beef added to the marinara with some pasta), some naan pizzas for lunch at work, and this Chicken Parmesan dinner.
I got a deal at the grocery store and scored all of these chicken breasts for less than $4! Hell yeah!
I made my own bread crumbs with some leftover white bread and seasoned it myself. I pan fried the chicken breasts and then stuck them in the oven topped with my marinara sauce and some mozzarella cheese.
The chicken got paired with some sauteed veggies and some buttered noodles. I had enough leftover to use for lunch the next day!
At the end of the week I had one jar of marinara sauce left and I used it to make pasta bake! It’s one of Jake’s favorite meals and I hadn’t made it in awhile. The way I make this is kind of like lasagna with a bunch of layered sauce, noodles, and cheese.
Here’s the base ingredients I used for my pasta bake. I couldn’t find the lids for the mason jar hence the plastic wrap “lid”. Do what you must, eh?
I decided to season my own sausage with spices I already had in my pantry. The ground pork is less than $2 a pound at my local Asian market (Lucky Seafood). Cheaper than buying Italian sausage at the supermarket!
I stuck about a tablespoon of fennel seeds into my mortar and pestle to grind the spices up. I didn’t want the full seeds in my sausage – just the flavor. I added about a teaspoon to a tablespoon of herbes de provence, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, peppercorn, and kosher salt. If you want some heat, add in some red pepper flakes.
Here’s how the spices look all ground up. I added some brown sugar to my sausage for a little bit of sweetness as well. I would actually put less brown sugar than this next time! You just need a little bit, like a tablespoon.
Cook the sausage until browned and set aside in a bowl.
While cooking the sausage, be sure to cook your pasta as well – about 3/4 of a bag of pasta (I find that a full pound of pasta never fits into my dish). You want to cook it for about 4-5 minutes less than the package directions. My pasta’s cooking time was 9 minutes, so I cooked my pasta for only 5 minutes. Your pasta will continue cooking in the oven and this way it will not be overdone.
Time to start layering! Start with a layer of marinara sauce.
This is the order I layered my pasta bake. You don’t have to be like me. You can put it in whatever order pleases you. I put fresh basil in next because I love basil.
Then I put in pasta. Can’t have a pasta bake without pasta! Am I right or am I right? I’m right.
And then mozzarella. I cut it into slices. I didn’t want to grate it. Grating takes too long. Booooo grating.
Dollops of delicious ricotta cheese. Do yourself a favor and get the whole milk variety at Trader Joe’s.
Homemade sausage layer! Om nom nom.
Then Parmesan cheese. Why didn’t I put it with the other cheeses? Who knows. I probably forgot.
Then repeat your layers! End with marinara sauce on top plus more Parmesan cheese.
Bake at 375 for 45 minutes with foil on top. After 45 minutes, remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes.
I should have added more cheese on top! But I didn’t.
Plate and serve. If you’re feeling fancy, add a sprig of basil to your dish. I didn’t do any fancy styling. I’m not THAT fancy, I guess. A sprig of basil is about what you’ll get from me. This is what it REALLY looks like! Enjoy!