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Penne with Pancetta (or Bacon), Spinach, and Buttery Crumb Topping


Another great recipe from Cooking Light! Their recipes never seem to let me down. I have had my eye on this recipe for quite some time and finally decided to make it the other night. I was sure glad I did! This was a great pasta dish and wasn’t too difficult to make. I really liked it because it was slightly cheesy due to the small amount of Parmesan, but not rich like an alfredo sauce. The French bread was also a great addition and was a nice change in place of ordinary bread crumbs. I will definitely be making this again.

8 ounces French bread
Cooking sray
¾ cup (3 ounces) chopped pancetta (I used bacon because I already had it)
¾ cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 ¾ cups 2% reduced-fat milk, divided
¼ cup half-and-half
6 cups chopped fresh spinach
½ cup (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
8 cups hot cooked penne (about 1 pound uncooked tube-shaped pasta)
¼ cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place bread in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until coarse crumbs measure 4 cups; set aside.

Heat a large nonstick saucepan over medium-high heat. Coat with cooking spray. Add pancetta, onion, and garlic’ sauté 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Place flour in a small bowl; gradually add ¾ cup milk, stirring until smooth. Add flour mixture, remaining 3 cups milk, and half-and-half to pan; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, and simmer 2 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly. Add spinach; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in cheese, salt, and pepper, stirring until cheese melts.

Place pasta in a large bowl. Add sauce mixture to pasta; toss well. Spoon mixture into a 13×9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Combine breadcrumbs and butter; toss well. Sprinkle over pasta mixture.

Bake at 425 degrees for 6 minutes or until crumbs are lightly browned.

Yield: 8 servings (505 calories and 16.1 grams of fat per serving; serving size is 1 ½ cups)

Source: Adapted from Cooking Light, March 2007