The great low-FODMAP experiment continues. Despite talking a big game about cooking, I’m actually a pretty big takeout junkie. Now–curse that garlic!–a lot of my favorite restaurant dishes and prepared foods are suddenly off-limits. So, to satisfy my grab-and-go impulse, I’ve been doubling down on freezer meals.
This has been an opportunity to break out of my (tasty, but repetitive) freezer-cooking rut: beans, soups, stews, chili. A couple weeks ago, I started asking around for recipe ideas, and a friend suggested baked pasta. With a new go-to tomato sauce recipe, it didn’t take long to put two and two together. From the fridge, I gathered a mishmash of cooked chicken, carrots, zucchini, bell pepper, dino kale, and provolone cheese. Together with a pound of brown rice pasta and a batch of homemade tomato sauce, these became one of the most delicious freezer meals I’ve ever made.
I love this just the way I made it: tender zucchini, sweet carrot, barely-wilted greens, tangy provolone cheese, and the occasional nugget of chicken. But baked pasta is perfect for cleaning out the fridge, so think of this recipe as a template. You can swap in another kind of cooked meat, or omit it altogether. Use whatever vegetables you like, or whatever’s in the fridge. In place of the provolone, try mozzarella, cheddar, smoked gouda, or a mix of cheeses–sliced or shredded, it’s up to you. Pretty much the only requirements here are pasta, tomato sauce, and a heap of grated Parmesan.
Another bonus for baked pasta: if your diet precludes wheat flour, this is a great way to ease into the world of gluten-free pasta. Going from the spring and chew of wheat-based pasta, the gluten-free alternatives (especially brown rice pasta) can seem gummy or mushy. But in a baked pasta like this, mush doesn’t really matter. We’re talking ooey-gooey comfort food here, not haute cuisine. Even if you overcook the pasta, or it goes soft in the freezer, this will still hit the spot. Trust me.
You could easily do this as one large casserole, if you’re feeding a crowd. But for freezer-to-oven convenience, I decided to freeze my pasta in smaller portions. I divided my ingredients into four disposable loaf pans, wrapped each one in foil, and stacked them in the freezer for later. Over the past couple weeks I’ve been eating my way through the stash–half a pan of pasta makes a perfect one-person lunch.
Chicken and Vegetable Baked Pasta (serves 8-10)
Note: When cooking vegetables for a dish like this, I tend to think in categories. Hard veggies like carrots go into the pot first, followed by medium-textured ones like zucchini. Soft veggies like bell peppers get just a minute or two of cooking, and greens go in last to keep their color and texture.
1 lb (16 oz) dried short pasta (wheat-based or gluten-free)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 carrot, diced
2 zucchini, diced
1 red or orange bell pepper, diced
2 cups cooked, chopped chicken meat
About 1/2 lb lacinato (dinosaur) kale, stemmed and chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
5 cups tomato sauce (homemade or storebought)
12 slices (8 oz) provolone cheese
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Generously salt the water, then add the pasta and cook for 3 minutes less than the package directions. Drain.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add carrot and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, for 6-8 minutes, or until the carrot is starting to soften. Add zucchini and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the zucchini starts to soften. Add bell pepper and chicken and cook for 1-2 minutes, until the pepper starts to soften. Add kale, stirring until it wilts. Turn the heat to low, cover, and keep warm while the pasta cooks.
Add the drained pasta to the pot with the cooked vegetable mixture. Add about half of the tomato sauce, and toss to coat everything with the sauce. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
At this point, you have options:
- For one large bake: Preheat the oven to 350º F, and position an oven rack in the middle. Lightly grease a 9×13 broiler-safe baking dish. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish, then add half the pasta mixture. Ladle over some more tomato sauce, then add 6 slices of provolone, breaking the slices up as needed to fit in the pan. Sprinkle over about half of the Parmesan cheese. Add the rest of the pasta mixture, then the rest of the tomato sauce. Lay the remaining 6 provolone slices on top, and sprinkle over the remaining Parmesan cheese.Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling. Turn the broiler on high and broil until the top of the pasta is browned to your liking. Let the baked pasta cool for 5-10 minutes before serving, so it can firm up a bit (and so you don’t burn your mouth).
- For smaller freezer portions: Lightly grease four disposable (foil) 8×4-inch loaf pans. (Each loaf pan holds two generous servings of pasta.) Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of one of the pans. Add about 1/8 of the pasta mixture, then top with a ladleful of sauce. Tear 2 provolone slices in half and lay them on top of the pasta. Add another portion of pasta, another ladleful of sauce, and 1 more slice of provolone torn in half. Sprinkle over about 1/4 of the Parmesan cheese. Repeat the whole process with the remaining pasta and pans.Tear or cut four pieces of aluminum foil. Lightly grease the shiny side of the foil, then lay a piece of foil over each pan, greased side down. Tightly crimp the foil around the pans to seal, and freeze for up to 1 month. (The pasta may get mushy in the freezer; remember, mush doesn’t matter!)You can bake the pasta straight from the freezer, or thaw it overnight in the fridge first. Either way, preheat the oven to 350º F (you can also do this in a toaster oven!). Bake the pasta with the foil on until it’s heated through, about 30 minutes for thawed pasta or 60 minutes for frozen. Remove the foil, turn the broiler on high, and broil until the top of the pasta is browned to your liking. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before digging in. Refrigerate any leftovers and reheat them the same way.