Baked Italian Chicken Pasta with Spinach


Lately I've been into experimenting with pastas. What I love about pasta is that you can be as unique as you want, mixing different ingredients and still end up with a brilliant, flavorful dish. I'm beginning to see sort of a pattern with my usage of spinach because I tend to put it in pretty much anything lol and that's ok! I actually got the idea for this dish from a friend and decided to put my own spin on it. I like to think of it as the "unstuffed shell". If you've ever had stuffed shells then you'll know what I'm referring to. I plan to share my stuffed shell recipe with you soon but until then I hope you enjoy my little easy to mix and bake concoction ^_^

Directions:

First you'll need a box of penne pasta, put it in a large boiler and cook according to the directions on the box.


Next, ground 1lb of ground chicken over medium to high heat in a large skillet.


Once completely browned, season with chicken chili seasoning. I use a box of chicken chili mix found at my local grocery store. Stir in, ensuring to coat every piece of the chicken.


Then add half a bottle of tomato sauce to the chicken. I use an Italian Sausage and Garlic sauce by Prego. Mix and bring to a light boil then reduce heat.


Now drain thawed frozen spinach and squeeze out any excess water. You don't want it to be overly drenched before adding to the dish.


Then add the spinach to the chicken and tomato sauce, heat and stir thoroughly. Turn off heat and add ricotta cheese. I use a 15 oz. (medium) container of original ricotta by Polly-O. Mix well.


Now transfer the chicken mixture to the boiler you set aside earlier with the penne pasta and mix thoroughly. Then add the remaining tomato sauce on top of the mixture and stir in. 


Transfer to a large greased or foiled baking dish and top with shredded cheese. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until cheese is completely melted. Then serve.


Prep Time: 15 mins | Cook Time: 20 mins | Total Time: 35 mins  | Serves: 5-8

Ingredients:
2 tbsp olive oil (optional)
1 1lb box penne pasta
1 large bottle tomato sauce
1 bag frozen chopped spinach (or fresh)
1 15oz. container ricotta cheese (medium sized)
1lb ground chicken
1 8oz bag sharp shredded cheese
2lb box of chicken chili mix (or season all)

Method:
Boil box of penne pasta, cook according to the directions on the box, drain, then return to boiler and sit aside. Brown 1lb of ground chicken over medium heat in a large skillet. Add chicken chili seasoning pack and stir to evenly coat the meat. Add half a bottle of tomato sauce, mix well and bring to boil. Add frozen spinach and ricotta cheese, mix well and turn off heat. Combine the chicken and spinach mixture to the boiler you set aside and mix thoroughly into penne pasta. Add the remaining tomato sauce. Transfer to a greased or foiled cooking dish and top with shredded cheese. Bake in the oven at 350° for about 25-30 minutes until the cheese has fully melted and the sauce starts to bubble.

Notes: 
I've made this pasta a couple of times and from my experience it dries out and loses flavor after baking if you don't use an abundant amount of tomato sauce. My directions suggest 1 large bottle of tomato sauce but you can very well use more, you can use your own judgment in the future based on taste after you've tried it. As for the ground chicken, unlike ground beef it doesn't really produce a lot of oil while browning. So you can use olive oil to assist you with browning the meat faster. A helpful tip when sitting the pasta aside, to prevent the noodles from sticking together (from the heat) you can leave or pour a little water over them. I use a chicken chili kit to season the ground chicken, the pack comes with flour, salt, cayenne pepper, and seasoning. I only use the seasoning and the cayenne pepper (optional). You can season the chicken however you prefer, season all or nothing at all ;o) Also, make sure you thaw out the frozen spinach a day before or a few hours prior to use.


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