easy baked penne with chorizo and cheddar

22 February, 2011 at 5:59 pm Leave a comment

We recently discovered a local farm that produces ridiculously delicious chorizo, and have been enthusiastically exploring things to do with it. First we made tacos with it, and then scrambled it with eggs. Then we made chorizo sandwiches, and sprinkled it on salads. Finally, we were thinking it might be nice to try it with pasta, imagining something reminiscent of this, when I happened upon a recipe for a spicy pasta and sausage bake from America’s Test Kitchen. With a few tweaks, the dish became an amazing way to enjoy chorizo, pasta, and all the spicy, cheesy warmth of a good casserole.

I wasn’t sure how the elements of this dish would come together, but the effect was homey and nostalgic, even though I never ate anything like this as a kid. Something about the combination of the pasta, cheddar, tomatoes, and spicy meat had kind of a chili mac vibe, but in a more elevated way. I loved how low maintenance and weeknight friendly it was (chop an onion and some garlic, grate some cheese, stir stuff around, and that’s about it!); it’s definitely one of those dishes that makes you feel like you created a lot out of relatively few ingredients. This is definitely something we will make again!

Casseroles tend to be pretty flexible, so a quick note on ways you can play with this recipe if you like. First, if you don’t have access to a good chorizo that you like, you could go ahead and substitute another ground meat– hot italian sausage would be the closest substitute, but you could even go with ground beef or pork if you want, even chicken I suppose. The recipe calls for diced tomatoes with green chiles and spices to add a little gentle heat, but if you don’t have those, regular diced tomatoes would work as well, although in that case I would add a touch of cayenne or red chile flakes to bump up the spice. Lastly, we used cheddar cheese, but you could probably get away with mozzarella in a pinch, or pepperjack would surely be tasty if you have it on hand.

Baked Penne with Chorizo and Cheddar
Adapted from The Best Simple Recipes, from America’s Test Kitchen
Serves 4

1/2 lb chorizo (raw mexican-style, not cured spanish style), casings removed if present
1 medium onion, diced (a rough cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup milk (or half n’ half, if you are feeling rich)
1 10-0z can diced tomatoes with green chiles and spices (plain diced tomatoes is ok too)
12 oz penne (about 3 cups)
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar or pepperjack cheese
3 scallions, chopped

Place a large, ovensafe skillet or saute pan over medium high heat. Add the chorizo and onion and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up the chorizo, until lightly browned, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the broth, milk, tomatoes (and their juices) and pasta, and season with salt and pepper. Turn on the broiler in the oven so it can preheat while the pasta cooks. Bring the pasta mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low, cover, and simmer, stirring frequently, until pasta is al dente, 10-15 minutes.

Take skillet off the heat, and stir in half of the shredded cheese. Top pasta with the second half of the cheese, and pop it under the broiler for 2-5 minutes, watching carefully, until it’s lightly brown and bubbly. Allow the casserole to rest for 5 to 10 minutes (the juices will thicken a bit), then sprinkle with scallions and serve!


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