Change the Cheese, Add some Meat – It’s Yours

Ever make the same dish in a span of two weeks because it was that damn good? Well, I generally don’t as I’m usually a stickler for variety and avoiding recent repetition, but this dish was THAT DAMN GOOD.

Featured here is my rendition of Bon Appetit’s Spicy Baked Pasta with Cheddar and Broccoli Rabe. I am 150% sure that if you do follow the recipe step by step, you won’t be any less pleased than I was with my version. But you know me, I don’t like following rules in the kitchen 😬 Also, when I first browsed the recipe, my immediate reaction was “But where’s the meat?” And nothing was going to stop me from adding The Meat (except perhaps coronavirus which thankfully has not yet affected my meat intake).

So here’s what I followed and here’s what I changed.

  • Leeks. Don’t skip the leeks! This was actually my first time cooking with leeks so there IS a plus side to using recipes – they expose you to new things! Also, don’t follow your own instincts if they’re anything like mine. If I hadn’t looked up how to use leeks I would have cut off the wrong end and thrown away the main part of the leek you’re supposed to use.
  • Broccoli Rabe and/or Broccolini. The first time I made this recipe I used broccoli rabe and it blew our minds. The unique slight bitterness is arguably what makes the dish. Yesterday however, my husband did the grocery shopping and got broccolini instead of broccoli rabe (they’re in the same section of the store, they are both green – who can blame him?) so that’s what we used instead. And it was still absolutely delicious. Maybe a great alternative for taste buds that have not yet attuned to the rabe. Just note though that if you do end up going with broccolini, you need about 3 bunches of it versus 1 bunch broccoli rabe (obviously depending on how big the bunch is at your local market).
  • Chives. I consider this optional. Last time I made the dish I didn’t use chives and this time I did. I can’t say I could taste the difference. I could only see the difference (since I used it to be a beautiful sprinkle on top). I would recommend the chives though because the visual appeal is part of the eating experience for me.
  • Pasta. I used Mezzi Rigatoni the first time and regular Rigatoni the second time. I liked the Mezzi Rigatoni as I felt like since the pieces are smaller, they absorbed flavor more easily – but that could just be in my head or because I am biased toward cute things (they do after all look like mini chubby versions of rigatoni).
  • Cheese. Or Chez as we call it in our household. The recipe calls for Sharp White Cheddar but I decided to go with pre-shredded Mozzarella and pre-grated Parmesan. No regrets. I do sometimes like buying the fresh Mozz and Parm and grating it myself but sometimes (often) I’m also lazy. I will probably try Cheddar as well as the recommended Sharp White Cheddar next time.
  • La Meat. For carnivores like myself, the meal is incomplete without it. Or it’s an appetizer. I opted for Ground Turkey here but next time I’d be interested in mixing it up with Italian Sweet Sausage. (I’m sure the dish is fine without meat by the way – I mean no offense to vegetarians. I’m just freely admitting my own narrow mindedness here.)
  • Heavy cream. Yep, I followed this part and I suggest you do so too.
  • Seasoning. Salt, pepper, and red chili pepper flakes is all the recipe asks for and it’s all you need.
  • Breadcrumbs. I mean this should go without saying but YES. If you want the crunch that every pasta bake deserves, you must.

All that’s left to do is to put that tray of goodness in the oven, sit and wait and inhale deliciosity in the air, and take your first bite. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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