Baked Penne with Spinach, Roasted Red Peppers & B.A.C.O.N

This recipe was an entry into the Pacific Foods Everyday Chef Challenge: Baked Penne with Spinach, Roasted Red Peppers and Bacon.

The challenge was to come up with a recipe using one of Pacific Natural Foods Creamy Soups + spinach. My family loves baked pasta dishes, and I love that they’re so easy to assemble. I thought their Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup would make a fabulous base for a new baked pasta recipe, so I created a creamy sauce out of it.

It worked wonderfully… the creamy, sweet flavors of Roasted Red Peppers and Tomato do delicious things for pasta. I incorporated spinach, bacon and roasted red peppers. And there‚Äôs plenty of cheese too!

This recipe makes a whole bunch, which is a good thing since it tastes even better the next day!

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Baked Penne with Spinach, Roasted Peppers and Bacon

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Prep Time: 25 min

Cook Time: 35 min

I created this recipe to enter into a recipe contest. I didn't win, but we did love the recipe!

Ingredients:

SAUCE:
16 ounce container of Pacific Natural Foods Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup
2 cups 2% milk
4 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
freshly ground pepper, to taste

PASTA:
1 pound penne pasta (or ziti), cooked until tender, but still firm to the bite
1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed & squeezed dry
3/4 cup chopped jarred roasted red peppers
1 1/2 cups cubed Provolone cheese
8 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled
1 1/2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
kosher salt

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 9x13-inch pan (or other 2 1/2-quart baking dish) with nonstick spray.

2. Prepare sauce: Heat soup and milk in a medium saucepan until small bubbles begin to form around the edges (just until hot). In a larger saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add flour and stir well. Continue to cook, stirring, until thick and smooth, about 2 minutes. Slowly begin adding hot soup/milk mixture to the large saucepan, whisking constantly while adding. Sauce will start out lumpy and become smooth as the liquid is incorporated.

3. Assemble the dish: In a large bowl, toss cooked pasta with the sauce. Break apart the spinach with your fingers and add it to the bowl. Also add red peppers, provolone cheese and 3/4 cup of Parmesan. Stir until ingredients are evenly distributed. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle with bacon crumbles and top with remaining Parmesan cheese. Finish with a good dose of freshly ground black pepper and a sprinkle of kosher salt.

4. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake 25 minutes. Uncover and bake until sauce is bubbling around the edges and the center is hot (about 10 minutes more). Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Tips:

*Pacific Natural Foods Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup can usually be found in your market's natural food's aisle.
*Don't use generic pasta for this recipe. In baked pasta recipes, generic pasta tends to overcook. Make sure that you only cook the pasta to "al dente" state- about 5 minutes for penne. It will cook more in the baking process and become more tender.
*Substitutions: You can sub mozzarella for the Provolone, but the provolone will give the dish more flavor. Try using Applewood Smoked Bacon in this recipe too... so delicious.
*I kept the salt low in this recipe- using salted butter & a sprinkle of kosher salt on top of the pasta. Add more salt if you'd like.

Source: www.RecipeGirl.com