I know what you’re going to say when you see that I’m giving you a recipe for a baked pasta in the dead of summer…but hear me out! I know summertime is a time for lighter food…fresh salads with heaps of mouthwatering summer tomatoes, cold noodle dishes with a nice spicy kick, BBQ chicken with blackened corn on the cob dripping with the best cilantro-lime butter…yes, I agree, summer food is most delicious and should be kept light…ish. However, summer is also a time when let’s face it, with the kids home and no set schedule, can knock you out of your routine a little. You wake up a little later, play with the kids a little longer, go to the pool and meet with your friends, run a few small errands here and there and then all of sudden…gha! It’s 5:00pm and you have NO idea what to make for dinner!
The kiddos are hungry because they have been swimming and playing outside all afternoon, and you A) forgot to pick up groceries or B) forgot to take something out of the freezer to defrost before you went to bed last night or C) are just plain and simple not in the mood to make anything fussy and plead with your kids to eat what’s in front of them. Now queue THIS bad boy recipe – 5 simple ingredients, crazy easy and sooo stinking tasty!!! Throw in a quick salad with a few crunchy veggies tossed in a tangy vinaigrette, and you’ve got yourself dinner!
If you like lasagna, I think you’re really going to like this kind of “mock” lasagna, if you will.
I’m almost embarrassed to post this recipe because it really is that stinking easy! Honestly, I can hardly even call it a “recipe”, but I gotta tell you, this is one both the parents AND kids will love!! And if you happen to make it for company, feel free to leave out the fact that it only took you 30 minutes of prep time…tops!
First things first, let’s get those ingredients…all FIVE of them! Cheese tortellini, reduced fat shredded cheese, marinara sauce, Italian sweet chicken sausage (the fully cooked kind that come packaged in the refrigerated section) and light sour cream…yes, you read that right SOUR CREAM! Trust people…trust!
Get a pot of water boiling, with a good amount of salt to help season the pasta, then…IGNORE the instructions on the package and instead, only cook the tortellini for 3 to 4 minutes TOPS!!! Anymore and you will have mushy tortellini when it comes out of the oven – yuck! Drain the pasta in a colander, and I like to add a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and give it toss to help keep the noodles from sticking. I keep the pasta right there in the colander, sitting in the sink and let it hang out while I get the remaining ingredients together. The sausage! I like to cut mine in half (lengthwise), and then cut those into little half moons, like this:
In the SAME pan, you used to cook the pasta in (why dirty another pot?!), add a drizzle of extra virgin oil, or spray with non-stick spray and start to brown the sausage pieces on all sides. Depending on the brand you buy, it can take anywhere from 5 to 7 minutes (mine took about 5) over a moderate heat. Give it a stir from time to time to keep it from sticking, then remove the sausage onto a dish and set aside.
If you were to look in your pan, it should look like this…
You WANT it to look like this – all those brown yummy bits are going to add a TON of flavor to your sauce! Add about ¼ C of water, or stock…or like in my case, if you happen to be sipping on some wine, add that!!! I should say that I always add wine to this. YUMMA, when the wine hits the pan, the smell is crazy good and just adding a ton of flavor to this dish!!! Once you add the liquid, you want to scrape up all of those yummy bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, until it looks like this:
Now that is a base to make that store bought marinara, one tasty sauce! At this point, you could throw in a simple can of crushed tomatoes, however, I had about ¾ of a jar of marinara sauce leftover (I used ¼ of it the night before to make some mini-pizzas with the kids!), so I threw that in. I always have jars of marinara in my pantry, so that is what I have always used. Give it a good stir, let come to a simmer, then turn the heat off, and whisk in the sour cream. Don’t skip this part – it really does add not only a nice silky, creaminess to the sauce, but a great little tang that goes so well in this dish! I also love that you get a tomato “cream” sauce without having to add gobs of heavy cream – no need for that here!
Now it’s time to assemble! So, you’re oven should be nice and preheated by now, I used my convection at 375, and honestly, if I used it in standard oven mode, I would most likely still do 375, just keep it in a little longer.
Spray the bottom of a somewhat shallow baking dish with a bit of cooking spray, then add half of the pasta (be sure to give the tortellini a quick stir first to loosen up any pasta that might have stuck a little), top that with half of the browned sausages, and half of the cheese. Resist the urge to add more cheese, trust me, this is perfect! Your cholesterol level will thank you, and I promise you won’t want for it once you take that first delicious bite!
Now repeat (almost) that same layering sequence, only this time, beginning with the remaining tortellini, sausage, sauce and finishing with the remaining cheese. Place in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese has melted, like this:
As I mentioned before, I LOVE the crispy edges of baked cheese, so at this point, I turn my oven to the BROIL/HI setting for another 3 to 5 minutes. This is NOT the time to go take a phone call, as it can go from perfect to perfectly burnt. So put your timer on and take a peek after about 3 minutes. Mine took closer to 5 to get like this:
I wish you could smell this – absolute heaven! You’re family will love walking in the door to this smell, I can tell you that much. My poor dog wouldn’t leave the oven’s side! “Can I have some…please?!”
And just like that! Dinner is done!!! I hope you and your family enjoy this lightened up, but still yummy version of this “mock” lasagna!
Mock Lasagna with a tomato “cream” sauce
– 1 – 10 oz pkg of cheese tortellini (I like the fresh packages from the refrigerated section)
– 4 fully cooked chicken sausage links (I really like Al Fresco, sweet Italian)
– About ¾ jar of marinara (you can heat up the remaining sauce the next day and enjoy with some fresh bread and a glass of wine for a pre-dinner snack!)
– ½ C reduced fat shredded cheese (I used Sargento 4 cheese Italian blend, but I also like mozzarella)
– ½ C light sour cream (don’t use the fat free kind…the texture turns a bit gritty and somewhat curdled. You have been warned ;o)
– ¼ C liquid such as water, stock, or wine…preferably wine!