This was adapted from an America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated recipe, and has become one of our favourite go-to skillet dinners. It gets the “healthy” tag, coming in around 450 – 500 calories per serving (depending on your choice of sausage), even though it is not a super-low-fat dish. What it is: delicious, satisfying, and easy to make, and has about 4.5 grams of fibre. It also reheats nicely the next day.
1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
340 – 400 grams fresh, lean Italian sausages
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
225 grams penne pasta
2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 cup skim or 1% milk (preferably at room temperature)
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes
8 small mushrooms, cut into sixths
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, drained, rinsed, and quartered
1/3 cup roasted red peppers (such as Piquillo), drained, rinsed, and coarsely chopped
4 handfuls baby spinach (or mature spinach, coarsely sliced)
a small handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Remove the sausages from their casings and crumble them into a bowl or onto a cutting board. Prepare all of the vegetables as indicated.
In a large, non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the sausage, and fry until lightly browned, stirring and breaking up with a wooden spoon. Add the onions and garlic and sauté another five minutes or so, until the onions start to turn translucent. If anything starts to stick, deglaze the pan with a tablespoon of white white, vermouth, or plain water.
Add the penne to the skillet, stirring it around to coat the pasta with the juices. Pour in the broth and milk, and give the whole pan a good stir, making sure to integrate the broth and the milk. Add the oregano, white pepper, and chile flakes. Bring to a simmer, then reduce to a medium-low heat and cover. Let it cook until the pasta is just about tender, about 10 – 12 minutes. The milk may try to separate, so stir periodically.
Remove the lid and add the mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and peppers. Cook, uncovered, stirring, until the mushrooms are done, about 5 more minutes. Turn the heat down to low and stir in the spinach, a handful at a time, letting it wilt. The spinach will cook down quite a lot, so don’t worry if it seems like a lot at first. The spinach takes about 2 – 5 minutes to get all integrated, depending on how quickly you’re adding it. Stir in the cheese and the fresh basil leaves, taste for salt, and serve. I note that because the sausage, the broth, and the cheese all contain salt, you may not need to add any.
Add ground black pepper (and maybe a bit more parmesan) at the table.