Making a Pesto Marinara Pasta Bake
Sam and I have always talked about taking cooking classes together but have yet to actually do it. Most of my cooking I’ve learned from my mother and endless videos/ recipe “reading” on the internet. I’ve always been so fascinated with the amount of different techniques and styles you can create while in the kitchen- learning straight from the core has always been just a small dream lodged in the back of my head.
The amount of creativity (and braveness) that goes in to developing a recipe is a skill set unlike anything else. I can’t tell you how many people I admire in the space of recipe developing and how many who are probably out there going unseen. It’s most likely for these people and the internet alone that helped me discover my inner passion for cooking. It allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and create food I actually want to eat and in ways you never would expect. That is the reason I love to be in the kitchen, the little fact that anyone can learn how to cook, anyone can find a deeper creativity (you may not know exist) and not everything is perfect, but can still be delicious and made by you.
I was inspired to make some sort of comfort dish the other night (of course on a rainy day) that fell in to the category of Italian and well, cheese. One secret I’ve learned over time is to play around with different condiments. Simple, small ways to elevate a meal with a sauce or spread that just perfectly offset each other enough. For example: BBQ sauce and preserves, hot sauce in mac n cheese, and for this case pesto in marinara.
I used two big cans of San Marzano Crushed Tomatoes (the best tomatoes out there!) and stirred it in to the caramelized goodies of onions, shallots, garlic, and mushrooms. I added the pesto soon after to the let the flavors mend a little and simmer while I prepared the rest of the dish. This dinner lasted us a few nights and got better sitting in the fridge each time. The longer you can let the sauce simmer here, I highly recommend that.
Of course I had to to make a comfort, healthy dish that would fill us up but not overly stuff us. This is the penne I’m devoted to which works perfectly in any dish! The brand makes any other type of pasta you need as well. I use them in a few of my recipes like this one here. Added greens with the spinach and the browned chicken also make the dish an all around balanced meal, but feel free to leave out the chicken if you would like it to be vegetarian. I love the richness this recipe gives off but also just how easy and wholesome it is. If you want, get a little creative with it by making your own pesto, adding a layer of pesto that’s not stirred in, or trying various cheeses. I hope you enjoy. 🙂
Pesto Marinara Pasta Bake
- 2 large chicken breasts
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil divided
- 1 shallot thinly sliced
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- 4 oz mushrooms sliced
- 2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 1/2 cup pesto
- 2 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp rosemary
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 lb penne pasta gluten free if desired
- 2 cups baby spinach
- 8 oz sliced or shredded mozzarella
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Season the chicken with salt and pepper and set aside while you heat the pot.
- Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat.
- Sear the chicken until browned on both sides. (About 5 minutes each side)
- Remove the chicken to a plate.
- Heat the remaining tbsp of olive oil in the pot (if needed) and add the shallot and onions. Cook until soft. Next add the garlic and mushrooms and cook until fragrant. (3-5 more minutes).
- Gently stir in the tomatoes, broth, pesto, oregano, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper.
- Reduce the heat to low, cover, and let simmer while you prepare the pasta.
- Cook the penne according to the directions on the box, until al dente. Drain and set aside. (If using gluten free you may need to rinse so they don't completely stick together)
- Uncover the lid and stir in the pasta, parmesan, and spinach. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt if needed.
- If using a dutch oven keep the pasta in the pot and remove from heat. If not, transfer the pasta to a large baking dish.
- Top with the mozzarella cheese and place in oven to bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
- Turn the broiler on high and broil for an additional 2-3 minutes until slightly browned.
- Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving.