Now that spring is approaching, it's probably time to fit in a few of the comfort food dishes on our "to try" list before the weather turns permanently warm and we turn to grilling and lighter fare. This pasta dish from CL fits that category - it's creamy, buttery and loaded with carbs. In fact, I'm not entirely convinced it's even low-fat! Half and half? Butter? Cheese? Pancetta? Well, of course it's the 1 pound of pasta and 8 ounces of bread that bring the total number of calories high enough that you can add all that fat and still fall within the 30% of calories from fat range. When you look at the total number of fat gram per serving, 16, that's pretty high in fat for a low-fat recipe. Still, it's much lower than any full-fat version, so it works for me!
As always, there were a few changes made, so in the interest of full disclosure, let's review those first. I used 4 ounces of pancetta instead of 3 - that's only because my package was a 4-ounce package and I didn't want 1 ounce of pancetta sitting around and going to waste. Second, I don't keep 2% milk on hand, so I upped the half and half a bit to compensate. When we get a nice, crusty loaf of bread, I keep the little bits of heels around for just such a dish like this - I used bits of pieces of things lying around, including a loaf of rosemary-olive oil bread. In place of the regular penne, I used Barilla Plus Rotini which worked very well for this dish and added a little extra fiber.
This dish received groans of pleasure all around. I have to warn though, those who typically find basic comfort food dishes bland might not like this one as is - it may require a bit of tweaking to appeal to some palates. The buttery crumb topping truly is buttery and delicious - normally I'm disappointed with these kinds of toppings, but really enjoyed this one. I really think that heel of rosemary-olive oil bread added a very pleasant hint of flavor. If I didn't have this kind of bread on hand the next time, I would consider adding a bit of dried herbs to the bread crumb mixture - not a lot, just a touch - it really added a nice dimension to this dish. I would also up the spinach - I used 6 cups out of my -ounce bag and really could have easily used the entire bag. Even my spinach-phobic husband agreed that it could use more spinach and he NEVER says that!
The only drawback? It uses a lot of pots, pans and dishes - one to melt the butter, the processor for the bread crumbs, one to cook the pasta, a dish to bake in the oven, etc., etc. Instead of using yet another bowl to toss the pasta and sauce, just make sure to use at least a 3-quart size nonstick skillet when you make the sauce (or even a Dutch Oven would work) and you'll have enough room to toss the pasta and spinach right in with the sauce - no need to dirty yet another bowl.
I think this dish would be a great vehicle for using up whatever meats, cheeses or breads you have on hand - I could see any number of possibilities working for this one and I look forward to tweaking in the future.