Baked penne with broccoli and three cheeses (4-6 servings)

Happy 2010, readers! Let's all vow to eat more healthfully and cook with seasonal and local ingredients in the coming year! If you need some inspiration, check out the 100 Mile Diet's 12 reasons to eat local.

That being said, this is a tough time of year for eating locally. In Pennsylvania, about the only produce ready for harvest is potatoes. And don't get me wrong -- I love potatoes -- but even our favorite foods get tiresome after a while.

The warm months of summer present us with a huge variety of available produce, and many of the dishes we associate with summer (sweet fruit medleys, sunny tomato and basil pasta, crunchy layered salads, etc.) appeal to our senses because of the blending of colors, textures, and flavors. Winter, however, gives us a chance to switch to simpler recipes that spotlight one or two produce items at a time, playing up their flavors with herbs and spices.

My proposed solution for this time of year is to use local produce whenever you can, and when you can't, to buy only a few non-local produce items at a time and then use locally-made cheeses or sauces to enliven them.

A few nights ago, Bryan and I made a version of this Epicurious recipe with our friends Joey and Kelly. I accidentally upped the amount of pasta, but it ended up working well for our crowd of four. This was a hearty and comforting casserole that worked nicely on a chilly, windy day.

You will need:

  • 2 tsp olive oil

  • 3 garlic cloves, minced

  • 16 oz dry penne pasta

  • 3-4 cups broccoli florets

  • 2 cups purchased or homemade marinara sauce

  • 1 cup packed grated low-fat mozzarella

  • 1/2 cup low-fat ricotta

  • 2 Tbsp grated parmesan

  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Steps:

  1. Start pasta water boiling in a large pot. Preheat oven to 400 F.

  2. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; cook and stir for one minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

  3. Mix marinara sauce, 1/2 cup mozzarella, ricotta, basil, 1 Tbsp parmesan, and sauteed garlic in a large bowl and set aside.

  4. Cook the penne according to package directions. Add broccoli to boiling water during last 2-3 minutes. Drain.

  5. Add pasta and broccoli to the marinara mixture; toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to an 11" x 9" glass baking pan (it juuust fit in ours) and sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and parmesan.

  6. Bake, uncovered, until cheese melts, about 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

We served this with pillow-soft Italian bread and a triple batch of Kelly's godmother's mushrooms. I promise you won't be disappointed.