Something I’ve been working on for the past couple of years is getting better at improvising in the kitchen. Too often, I’m tempted to just say “we don’t have any food” and go out or order in. In reality, we usually have plenty of food—it’s just a matter of putting the bits and pieces together in a creative and delicious way. I’m pretty good about meal planning, but on the weeks I’m not so on top of it, creativity is the name of the game. I think the key to being successful at this is really knowing your basic cooking techniques and flavors—and, of course, trusting your instincts.
As many great dishes are, this one was born from the need to use up some extra veggies. Once I knew we had fresh mushrooms and spinach to work with, I spotted a couple of half-used blocks of cheese and a box of pasta and the rest just clicked. I know that mushrooms and bacon are a match made in heaven, and frozen peas are a great addition to most creamy pastas. All of these simple ingredients, combined with some basic know-how and inspiration, created some major magic. This pasta knocked our socks off! This will definitely be added to our quick-and-easy meal rotation.
The veggies are cooked in the fat from the bacon, which builds some serious flavor from the get-go. The mozzarella-asiago cheese sauce is simply made from low fat milk thickened with a little flour, and it clings to every noodle. The peas and spinach add pops of freshness and color, and the mushrooms provide a delicious meatiness, so you could easily make this a satisfying, meatless meal. But if you’re a meat lover, you’ll love the savory, crisp crunch the bacon provides—not to mention the depth of flavor it adds throughout. It takes only as long as the pasta needs to cook to throw this meal together, so it’s perfect for those nights when you’re short on ingredients and time. Enjoy!
Bacon Mushroom Cavatappi
- 8 ounces dry cavatappi noodles
- 4 slices bacon, sliced in 1″ pieces
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 4-6 ounces baby spinach
- 4 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1 ounce asiago cheese, shredded
- 1½ cups 1% or skim milk
- 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. While pasta cooks, cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon pieces with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Reserve about 1 to 2 Tablespoons of bacon fat in the skillet; discard the remainder or set aside for another use.
- Add onion and mushrooms to skillet with bacon fat and cook until onions are translucent and mushrooms are browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Lower heat to medium-low, then add peas and spinach to skillet and cover; cook until spinach is wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- While vegetables cook, start the sauce in a saucepan. Whisk together milk and flour and add to saucepan; stir in broth. Cook milk mixture over medium-high heat until boiling. Continue to cook another 1-2 minutes until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in cheeses until melted. Add salt and pepper to taste; keep warm until pasta is done.
- When pasta is done, drain and return to pot. Add vegetable mixture to pasta and stir until combined. Pour cheese sauce over the pasta and stir until all pasta is evenly coated. Stir in bacon or sprinkle on top to serve.