mini penne with spicy pesto and asparagus

mini penne with spicy pesto + asparagus | theclevercarrot.com

Pasta shapes are quite the controversial topic in our family.

We’ve been known to get into full fledged arguments over what kind of pasta goes with what kind of sauce. Medium shells are a hands-down favorite, ziti is not. In fact, I had a cousin walk out on a meat sauce dinner because we were having penne instead of spaghetti (she has a floor to ceiling armoire dedicated to pasta and canned tomatoes, ok? Not even joking). Then of course, there is the brand of pasta…

Like I said, it is very controversial….

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mediterranean chicken pasta bake

Mediterranean Chicken Pasta Bake | theclevercarrot.com

If you saw my appliances in the new house, you would cry.

I cried.

I can handle ugly. I can handle outdated. But honestly, I’ve never seen a kitchen like this before in my life. We’ve reached a whole new level of vintage, it’s called ancient. There was actually a moment in time where I contemplated contacting the manufacturer, hoping that perhaps they would send me something new and shiny out of sympathy. But that idea came and went. I just know, that the minute I go to cook something it’s going to be a complete disaster. My oven door is held up by a hook, OK?! Maybe I will show you a pic (I’m still in denial).

Since we have a couple days before moving in, I decided to prep a bunch of meals to take over. This is one of them. The idea is to just reheat and serve, hassle free. If my prediction comes true and our stove bursts into flames, at least I was prepared! Better to be well fed than stuck with greasy takeout.

So here it is, a twist on this original recipe morphed into a wholesome pasta bake. It’s packed with Mediterranean flavors that are nutrient dense and satisfying. I’ve made a couple of tweaks along the way, but you’ll recognize the key players including chicken, artichokes, white beans, and fresh herbs. This might look like a total food-coma meal, but the combination of ingredients gives you the energy you need to tackle all kinds of projects. And you won’t need a nap afterwards…

Now, this is what I want to eat after painting a house!

Mediterranean Chicken Pasta Bake | theclevercarrot.com

Tips:

  • I use organic boneless, skinless chicken thighs for this recipe because they stay moist when baked. You can substitute with chicken breast as well (just keep an eye on it so it doesn’t overcook).
  • You will need a large, ovenproof casserole dish. Mine was a 9-inch, 2 quart, oval shaped dish. Everything fit perfectly.
  • I like to buy marinated artichokes hearts from my Italian deli. You can also find them in most grocery stores.
mediterranean chicken pasta bake
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 4
Ingredients
Marinade
  • 1½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces*
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 tbsp. marinade from artichoke hearts
  • 4 sprigs of fresh oregano, leaves stripped
  • olive oil
  • red wine vinegar
Bake
  • 1 lb. whole wheat fusili pasta
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, whole
  • ½ c. marinated artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
  • ½ c. white beans, rinsed + drained (I use northern white beans)
  • ½ c. Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
  • ⅓ c. parsley and basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 handfuls of part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese
  • salt + pepper
Garnish
  • parsley + basil leaves
*You can substitute with chicken breast (just keep an eye on it so it doesn't overcook).
Instructions
  1. For the chicken marinade, drain the artichoke hearts reserving the juice. To a large bowl, add the chicken, artichoke juice, garlic, and oregano leaves. Drizzle with olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar, and mix well to coat. Marinate for at least 1 hour, maximum 3 hours.
  2. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water. Drain and set aside.
  3. Preheat your oven to 425 F.
  4. To a casserole dish, add the sliced onions and tomatoes. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and the tomatoes begin to burst, about 15-20 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, in a large skillet warm 1 tsp. of olive oil over moderate heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade, pat dry, and season with salt and pepper. Working in batches, brown the chicken on both sides. It will be slightly undercooked.
  6. Remove the casserole dish from the oven. Add the cooked pasta, chicken, artichoke hearts, beans, olives, and chopped herbs. Stir to combine.
  7. Top with grated cheese and bake for an additional 5-7 minutes until the cheese is brown and bubbling. If you like it really brown, pop it under the broiler for a minute.
  8. Remove from the oven and garnish with fresh herbs right before serving.

budget meals: pasta with roasted broccoli + chicken sausage

budget meals: pasta with roasted broccoli + chicken sausage | The Clever Carrot

We’re moving to a new house!

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited we are. We’ve been looking for a long time, and the fact that it’s finally coming together is surreal. The papers are signed, inspections complete, and now all we have to do is wait for our closing date sometime next month. I will post some pics as soon as we’re moved in and settled. It has a cute little garden too.

All excitement aside, moving to a new house is pretty darn scary, actually. I feel like $$$ is literally flying out the window! I may not have control over every financial aspect in my life, but I do have control over what I eat. For me, the hardest part is planning ahead and getting creative with what I have. Sometimes you just want to be lazy… and being lazy can get costly. I am a firm believer that you can still eat healthy, tasty food on a budget.

Here are a couple of things that I do when shopping on a shoestring:

budget meals: pasta with roasted broccoli + chicken sausage | The Clever Carrot

Buy seasonal produce: Supporting your local farmer’s market (or growing it yourself) is very budget friendly. The overall abundance allows the farmer to keep their prices low. You know those giant heads of lettuce for only $1? That’s what I’m talking about. Classic supply and demand. Speaking of giant, when I work with broccoli I like to use the whole thing, including the stalk. If you peel away the outer skin, the stalks will become sweet and tender when roasted. Utilizing the stalk will not only prevent waste, but it will bulk up your meal too.

Support your butcher: We have access to several great butchers in our area. Most of them are in the form of Italian specialty stores and I buy from them about 90% of the time. The quality is good. The prices are low. The meat is fresh. I find that butchers exude an infectious passion about what they do and are always more than willing to answer any of my questions. When you buy from an actual person, you can ask things like hey- where does your chicken come from? What’s in your sausage? Can you grind that fresh for me? These personal relationships are far more valuable than dollar signs could ever be. But at $3.99/lb. for homemade sausage- that’s a total steal!

Plus, they give my kids sprinkle cookies when they start to wreak havoc in their store ;)

budget meals: pasta with roasted broccoli + chicken sausage | The Clever Carrot

Buy in bulk: This can be hit or miss sometimes, but generally speaking I buy most of my dried goods in bulk. This includes, rice, beans, oats, dried fruit, grains, nuts etc. My local Costco sells a variety pack (8) of organic, non-GMO pasta that comes out to only $1 a box. That’s a great price, especially for organic. So we stock up on this whenever we can.

budget meals: pasta with roasted broccoli + chicken sausage | The Clever Carrot

With a little bit of planning, I try to incorporate these money saving strategies into my game plan whenever possible. I’ve renewed my farm share again this year, and lately I’ve been making bi-monthly trips to the butcher to stock up. Perhaps I will even grow something in the new garden? Probably not. And by the way, this meal comes out to about $3 per serving for a family of four. Not bad for a budget meal, right? (and my kids don’t even eat half the time-ha!) I guess we’re going to be eating a lot of this for the next couple of weeks. Works for me.

Do you have any budget friendly recipes + tips that you’d like to share? I’m all ears.

Tips:

  • For this recipe, I use an Italian-style chicken sausage with fennel and parsley. This can be difficult to find sometimes as the pork variety is more common. You can create the same flavors with regular chicken sausage; simply add some bashed up, toasted fennel seeds to the broccoli before roasting (instructions below). This will give it that Italian-style taste.
  • Read your labels. Most packaged brands of sausage will contain corn syrup, MSG and other additives. You can avoid this by purchasing your meat from a reputable source so that you know exactly what’s in your product. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
  • Whenever I make pasta with ‘stuff’ in it, I usually double up on the protein and vegetables with hopes that everyone will fill up on that first. It’s always balancing act with white flour (not everyone wants to eat quinoa bowls with greens every night!) You can also substitute with whole wheat pasta or a gluten-free option.
budget meals: pasta with roasted broccoli + chicken sausage
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. fusili pasta
  • 1 lb. good quality chicken sausage, Italian-style*
  • 10 c. of broccoli, including the stalk (about 2 bunches)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 lemons (1 zested)
  • olive oil
  • salt + pepper
  • parmesan cheese, to taste
* I use an Italian-style chicken sausage with fennel and parsley. This can be difficult to find sometimes as the pork variety is more common. To create the same flavors with regular chicken sausage, add 2 tbsp. toasted fennel seeds to a mortar + pestal. Bash it up with some salt until coarse. Sprinkle over the broccoli before roasting. This will give it that Italian-style taste.
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 425 F. Grab 2 rimmed baking sheets and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet (with a lid), warm 1 tsp. of olive oil over moderate heat. Add the sausage with a small splash of water. Place the lid on and cook for about 10 minutes. Using tongs, flip the sausage over and continue to cook for another 10 minutes or so, covered. At this point, the sausage should be cooked through in the center. Now, remove the lid and cook until all of the moisture has evaporated and the sausage is a deep, golden brown. Transfer to a cutting board to rest for about 5 minutes. Slice into bite-sized pieces and set aside (don't pick!).
  3. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and cook your pasta according to the package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy cooking liquid before draining. *See note below.
  4. Meanwhile, cut the broccoli crown into florets. For the stalk, remove about 1-inch off the base and discard. Peel away the fiberous outer skin with a vegetable peeler. Cut into 2-inch sticks, about the same width as the pasta.
  5. Add all of the broccoli to a large bowl.
  6. Finely mince the garlic, or grate it using a microplane (or garlic press).
  7. Add the garlic to the broccoli and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss well to coat.
  8. Tip the broccoli out onto the prepared baking trays. Roast for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  9. When the pasta is ready, drain and then add back to the pot.
  10. Zest 1 lemon directly over the pasta. Cut that same lemon in half and add all of the juice to the pot. Drizzle with olive oil and add about ½ cup of the reserved pasta water; stir well. Add more water if it seems a bit dry.
  11. Add the roasted broccoli and sausage.
  12. Taste the pasta and add extra lemon juice, olive oil, and salt + pepper if necessary.
  13. Garnish with parmesan cheese to taste.
Notes
* Cooking the pasta with only 2 quarts of water will make the liquid extra starchy, which is what you want to create a silky sauce.