Baked rigatoni: Little work, lots of servings, and just 425 calories

I’m all about doing as little work as possible to make as many servings of food I can. Soups, polenta, and especially rice and pasta dishes are good for this.

If you order pasta at a restaurant the results can be calorically catastrophic. A heavy hand with the olive oil, too many noodles or too much sauce can weigh down what would have been a decent meal if someone had paid attention to the portion control. Plus, there’s a good chance there’s a load of butter in there too. Bummer, dude.

For the baked rigatoni I make, you can use regular or whole-wheat pasta (whole-wheat is preferable). Each serving of noodles will be about 200 calories and will weigh 2 oz. Use that rule to portion out however many servings you want. The pan above, which was the next size down from the typical Pyrex rectangular casserole pan, held six portions.

You can make your own sauce, or use any bottled sauce you would like. If I’m making sauce, I go with something simple like the passata di pomodoro from the Mozza cookbook (San Marzano tomatoes, evoo, sugar, salt, pepper). It makes a great mother sauce, and can be dressed up with garlic, herbs, or whatever else you’d like to throw in it. Another Mozza sauce to try would be Nancy Silverton’s basic tomato sauce, which can be found on Bon Appétit.

And after all that build up, I used a jar of store-brand tomato basil from Sprouts. Gotta save time when you can, right? Each 1/2 cup was 50 calories, with 6 servings to the jar.

I also threw in three cheeses, garlic and half a pound of mushrooms for some meatiness.

Here’s what you’ll need for 6 portions the way I do it:

12 oz. rigatoni or penne 3 cups pasta sauce 2-3 clove garlic, minced or microplaned 1/2 onion, small dice 8 oz. crimini mushrooms 1 T extra virgin olive oil 1/2 T unsalted butter 3 oz. fresh mozzarella, small dice 6 T mascarpone cheese 1 1/2 oz. parmesan, microplaned 2 T parsley, chopped salt and pepper, to taste cooking spray

To make it:

1) Follow the directions on the box to cook the pasta. Just make sure you salt the water to taste like the ocean before you cook the pasta. Make sure you reserve some of the starchy water before you strain it when it’s done!

2) Start up the sauce while the water heats up and you boil pasta. Over medium-high heat, cook the mushrooms in two batches, using 1/2 T of olive oil each time. Lightly salt the mushrooms. Next, using a dash of cooking spray, cook the onions and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes. If anything sticks to the pan at any time, simply loosen with a little water. Start with the onions first, then add the garlic, so the latter doesn’t burn. When it’s close to done, throw the mushrooms back in and stir with the butter.

3. Somewhere in here, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

3. Add the sauce, and salt and pepper to taste.

4. When the pasta is done, reserve some of the water, then drain. Add the pasta back into the sauce, with a couple spoons of the water. Let it simmer for a minute, until everything comes together.

5. If your pan is big enough, you can do this in the pan. If not, grab a large bowl. Mix the cheeses with the pasta and sauce, and drop in half of the parsley.

6. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and top with the parmesan. If you’ve used a microplane to create a fluffy mound of fine shreds, you’ll be able to cover the whole dish in a fairly-decent blizzard of salty cheese. Bake for another 5 minutes until the cheese on top browns slightly. Let it cool for 10 minutes and then dig in. The leftovers taste even better.

With the sauce from Sprouts, each serving was 425 calories. Had I left out the olive oil and butter, and cooked the mushrooms with just Pam, the recipe would have run about 390 calories according to CalorieKing. Add a huge handful of mixed greens and a light drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette and you’ve got a solid meal for under 500 calories.

The serving is large enough to satisfy, and the creamy, cheesy sauce and thick, chewy noodles are as sinful as anything you’d get at a restaurant, with at least half the calories to weigh you down.

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