Baked penne pasta with a basil-almond white sauce and spinach

IMG_2192A delightful vegetarian dish for dinner! Atleast, I love pasta, especially when it’s combined with a white sauce, cheese and fresh flavours and baked in the oven. Kids would love it too, a variation to the usual mac and cheese. And for grown-ups, dig into it, along with your favourite bread, a fresh salad and a glass of good wine!

My little pot of fresh basil growing on my deck, was beckoning me one mid-week evening! So I decided to incorporate it in this dish, along with some fresh spinach(one can use frozen chopped spinach too, if you are pressed for time) and almonds. For some crunch, I decided to bake it with a topping of Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs. And a few slices of a fresh tomato, for the final touch

Servings – 2

Ingredients:
Penne pasta- 1/2 lb. or about 200 grams
Grated Parmesan cheese- 1/2 cup

Organic spinach leaves, chopped- 2 cups
Breadcrumbs – 1/2 cup. I make my own breadcrumbs. In this case, I have used the crusts of whole wheat bread, which I had saved. I lay them on a baking sheet and toast them for a few minutes in the oven. Thereafter, pulse or grind in a food processor. One can also use store-bought, make sure they have a fresh taste and are not stale.

For the white sauce-
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. flour
2 cups whole milk
A pinch nutmeg
Salt, white pepper to taste

IMG_2181

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Heat butter in a pan on medium heat. Add flour. Stir for about 2 mins.( to eliminate raw taste of flour). Add the milk, turn heat on high. Keep stirring to remove all lumps that may form. Once it comes to a boil, reduce heat to low. Add salt, white pepper and nutmeg. IMG_2187Cook for about 5-7 mins. Set asideand let cool.

For the almond and basil mix:
8-10 fresh basil leaves
8-10 almonds, blanched and peeled(add whole almonds to boiling water for a few seconds, remove, let cool, and peel skins)
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp. milkIMG_2177
Add the above ingredients in a small food processor and grind to a smooth paste. Add themixture to the white sauce.

Saute spinach in a tsp.of olive oil, for a few minutes. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions.

IMG_2189In a baking dish, arrange the cooked pasta. Add the white sauce mixture, spinach and toss well. For the topping sprinkle the grated cheese and breadcrumbs. I sliced a tomato and arranged the slices too(optional). Drizzle a little olive oil before putting it in the oven.

Preheat oven at 400 F. Bake for about 15 minutes, till the cheese is melty and the the crust develops a light golden colour.IMG_2191

Serve it with your favourite bread and/or a fresh salad!

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