Spinach & Artichoke Pasta Bake

It’s been a while. Before I start, I want to point out that there’s the slightly new & more streamlined format for The Picky Gourmet posts. It’s gonna go like: short introduction to quell the general online jokes about bloggers talking too much when people just want the food (ha), the coveted recipe itself, followed by any suggestions or possible substitutions, & finally all the process photos are at the end for the visual learners.

OK, the elephant in the room here is that my big return to blog recipes happens to be right when grocery stores are the last place most people want to be. I hope everyone out there is staying safe, washing hands & keeping calm during this time while we are all trying to deal with this virus.

The good news is, this recipe happens to use a lot of ingredients you might already have on hand. Well, as long as you didn’t blow your whole grocery budget on toilet paper. Surprisingly, for a dish that is full of fresh, herbaceous flavor, the only things you actually need from produce are an onion & garlic (which I feel like most people have laying around anyway). Everything else is a pantry pull!

So let’s fire up the oven, hunker down with a glass of wine & make a…

Spinach & Artichoke Pasta Bake

  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1/2 yellow or white onion, diced
  • 16 oz whole grain rotini pasta
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz frozen spinach, thawed & drained of excess moisture
  • 6 oz jarred artichoke hearts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • 1 Tbsp dried basil
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Peel off the “paper” of the garlic, chop off the top & place it on a piece of tin foil. Drizzle the garlic with olive oil & close the foil around it. Roast for 45-50 minutes. Let it cool & squeeze the roasted garlic into a small bowl & mash with a fork. (Here is a quick little video from The Kitchn if you have never done this before & are unsure).
  2. Meanwhile, on the stovetop, cook the diced onion in a Tbsp of olive oil over medium heat, about 5-7 minutes until they become translucent & develop a golden brown color. Set aside to cool.
  3. At the same time, you can also cook your pasta on the stovetop as well. Cook about 1 minute less than package instructions. Once it’s done, drain the water & season the pasta with a touch of olive oil, half of the dried basil & oregano (1/2 Tbsp of each) & a pinch of salt & pepper.
  4. Bring the oven down to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, cooked onions & spinach. Add in the roasted garlic, chopped artichoke hearts, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, half of the parmesan & pecorino cheeses (1/4 cup each), with the crushed red pepper, the rest of the dried basil & oregano, & a pinch of salt & pepper.
  5. Gently fold the pasta into the ricotta cheese mixture until well incorporated. Transfer to a 9×13 baking dish & top with the mozzarella cheese & the remaining parmesan & pecorino.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is golden brown & bubbly. A minute under the broiler can help develop color at the end, but keep an eye on it.

Suggestions & Substitutions: obviously any pasta can be used here, as long as it isn’t a long noodle like spaghetti. Ziti, penne, cavatappi, anything like that would be great. I like using the whole grain here, because there’s so much flavor & cheese, why not sneak in a little extra fiber in there? Since this is a vegetarian recipe, protein infused pasta would be another great choice.

The key with these specific pantry ingredients is taking away the excess moisture. Obviously, frozen spinach needs to be thawed & have all that water squeezed out of it. I used the sun-dried tomatoes that come in a packet, but if you already have the jarred/oil-packed kind, just dab them with a paper towel. The tomatoes & artichoke hearts (which I always buy in a jar) don’t have to be bone dry, but just enough to avoid too much oil in the mixture.

While this makes a great meatless Monday or vegetarian dinner, if you want some added protein, throw some cubed rotisserie chicken in there or even some crumbled sausage. And if you want to cut back on the cheese, you could skip the top layer of mozzarella. (I mean, I wouldn’t, but no judgement.)

And a final note on the cheese. I personally love the funky, strong flavor that pecorino adds to the dish. If you don’t have pecorino cheese or don’t feel like spending the extra money, you can use all parmesan. I just beg you to grate it yourself instead of using the green tube can.

And that’s that! Stay healthy, stay safe & keep cooking.






Not Your Average Artichoke Dip

Happy Halloween everyone! Today I have my take on a classic, crowd favorite appetizer: spinach & artichoke dip. This would be the perfect thing to bring to a Halloween get-together, or to snack on at home while waiting for trick or treaters. Or you can just bookmark this little recipe for one of the many holiday parties that are right around the corner.

Before I get to it, I wanted to say how randomly this post came about. It was all by chance. I was looking at these greens that were only going to be good for a couple more days, and trying to think of something fun to do. That’s when a jar of artichoke hearts caught my eye. I had bought them a few days ago with the intent of using them elsewhere, but forgot about them.

I scanned the rest of my fridge… yup. I was pretty sure I had everything I needed for dip. I even had tortilla chips that a friend had left behind, because I don’t keep a lot of snacks around. I cook meals, and my friends bring me chips. (And wine. It’s a good deal.)

The stars aligned in my kitchen that day, and thus, my dip was created.

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 3/4 cup spinach (packed)
  • 1/4 cup arugula (packed)
  • 12 oz jar artichoke hearts (drained & chopped)
  • 2 roasted jalapenos (diced)*
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 cup cream cheese (room temp)
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • salt & pepper to season
  1. Heat oil & garlic in a small skillet over medium low heat. Add the spinach & arugula & sprinkle with a dash of salt & pepper. Saute for 2-3 minutes, tossing often, until greens start to wilt. Strain any liquid you can from the greens.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the sauteed spinach & arugula with the chopped artichoke hearts, diced jalapenos & parmesan. In a separate bowl, mix together the cream cheese, mayo & sour cream with a sprinkle of salt & pepper. Gently fold in the veggie mixture until evenly distributed.
  3. Carefully pour or scoop the dip into an 8″ cast iron skillet. Bake for 20 minutes, uncovered. Sprinkle the mozzarella over the top, then broil on low for 3-5 minutes, or until cheese turns golden brown.

*I roast jalapenos over the open flame on my gas oven until they are blistered & begin to char. You could alternatively roast them in the oven, use them raw, or omit them completely. I like a little extra spice & the pop of texture they add to the dish.


Spinach, arugula, artichokes, jalapeno & cheese mixture

Honestly, this entire recipe is based on having things in my fridge to use up. A lot of people make dip like this with frozen spinach, which is totally fine. I just had fresh spinach on hand. I also had arugula, which has a more peppery flavor, so I figured I’d throw that in too. Frozen spinach is a great shortcut though.


Before cooking… creamy & dreamy

I highly recommend having a small cast iron skillet on hand for things like this. It gets really hot (be careful!) which makes for evenly cooked food that will stay warmer, longer. Plus, it’s a great presentation for dishes like dips, cheese fries, pot pies… aka bar food. They require extra care and cleaning, but I love a cast iron skillet. Definitely a great investment.

I’m writing this as my beloved New England Patriots beat the Buffalo Bills, & it occurs to me that I should have restocked my fridge. This dip would have been awesome for game day, but there will be endless reasons to whip this up again during the next couple months. Let me know if you try this out for one of your next parties!

 

Spinach & Ricotta Stuffed Chicken

I don’t eat red meat. I haven’t since I was probably about 4 or 5 years old. So needless to say, I eat a lot of chicken. The struggle with chicken (especially your standard boneless, skinless breast) is that you don’t want to undercook it, but in a matter of a minute or two, they overcook and dry out.

Also, my social media feed is always showing me click bait articles and food website features on how to be creative with “boring” chicken breast. I personally think chicken is extremely versatile, but maybe that’s just the mindset you develop when you don’t eat mammals.

Side note: I am not someone who judges or hates on red meat eaters. I’m not going to tell you not to. To each their own! Just don’t try and force me to eat a hamburger. Many have tried. All have failed.

This recipe came about when I was attempting to make homemade ravioli. I had the filling ready to go, and I screwed up the pasta. Well, crap. Now I have a bowl of stuffing and no vessel. So I grabbed something I always have on hand: my trusty boneless, skinless chicken breasts.


The before pic (at the head of the post) is much neater than the after pic

Yields 4 servings

For the ricotta filling:

  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/8 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 Tbsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  1. Combine ricotta, egg, minced garlic, chopped basil, oregano and Parmesan in a bowl and set aside. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Carefully slice into the side of each chicken breast horizontally, leaving 3 edges intact. It’s better to slowly make many shallow cuts until you have a good sized pocket so you don’t slice right through the breast.
  3. Drizzle 1 Tbsp olive oil onto a lined baking sheet. Combine garlic salt, dried basil and pepper and sprinkle half of the seasoning over all the chicken, on one side only.
  4. Stuff 3 or 4 spinach leaves into each breast, followed by as much of the ricotta mixture as you can, without it overflowing. Use 3 or 4 more spinach leaves to push the stuffing in and create a barrier. Secure the opening with 2 toothpicks.
  5. Place the seasoned side of the chicken face down on the oiled baking sheet. Drizzle the chicken with the remaining Tbsp of olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining seasoning. Bake for 20 minutes and let rest for 2-5 minutes. Remove toothpicks and serve.

This is a recipe that’s fairly simple since it doesn’t have a lot of ingredients, but it will require you to get your hands dirty. Make sure you have paper towels and hand sanitizer near by, because you are going to really have to get all up in that raw chicken. Also, if you are using wooden toothpicks, soak them in water for at least 10 minutes so they don’t burn up in the oven.

When I tested this recipe, I served it with asparagus that I sautéed with olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and the zest and juice of a lemon. Today I went make it again, so I could actually take notes and write the recipe, and I realized the rest of my asparagus had started to go bad. So today, it was mashed potatoes on the side! You could really pair this with whatever you like or have on hand.


My first attempt, with asparagus

I love this recipe because the chicken actually cooks faster and more evenly since its been sliced almost all the way through. The ricotta filling keeps the inside moist and tender through the baking process as well. Trust me, it’s going to look a hot mess when it comes out, because the filling is going to seep out a little. It’s not the prettiest dish, but it’s delicious, and that’s all that counts sometimes.

Most likely, you will have leftover ricotta filling. Keep it for a couple days. You can do what I did and make the chicken a couple times with different sides, or use it in stuffed pasta or a lasagna dish. Just stir it into some more ricotta to stretch it. Whatever you use it for, remember there’s egg in it, so you need to cook it.

Don’t write off chicken as a boring dinner. It’s blank canvas for thousands of meals if you get creative. Sometimes you just need to think outside the box… Or in this case, inside.

Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken & Spinach

OK friends, it’s going to be a short and sweet recipe post today. I have a busy week with a guest coming to town and then I’ll be spending the holiday weekend in Las Vegas (woo hoo!). When I know I’m leaving town, I don’t like to go grocery shopping and end up with a bunch of food I can’t make in time. Instead I like to clean out the fridge and use food that would otherwise be bad when I return from my trip. I had heavy cream, spinach and fresh rosemary on hand which was screaming to me “fettuccine alfredo!”

Pasta always lends itself to a quick and easy meal. I don’t like to use jarred sauces though. Homemade just tastes so much better. I love making alfredo sauce because it uses only a few pretty standard pantry items that I always have around, like butter and grated parmesan cheese. I also literally always have pasta in the cupboard. I’ve tried a lot of combinations and it took quite a while to figure what I think is my perfect alfredo sauce recipe. I had it down, but then yesterday, I think I made it even better. The addition of spinach and rosemary that I needed to use or lose took it to a new level.

Yields two (big!) servings.

  • 8 oz fettuccine
  • 2 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 large boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • salt & pepper for seasoning
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup chopped spinach
  • 2 Tbsp fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tsp lemon pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  1. Cook pasta until al dente and set aside. You can do this ahead of time or while you are making the sauce.
  2. Heat canola oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Season both sides of the chicken with garlic powder and a pinch of salt & pepper. Cook chicken for 8-10 minutes, turning once, until cooked through. (If you have to cut it in half to fit into the pan, do so. You want to use a pan you can make sauce in, so avoid a skillet.) Remove from heat, slice into bite size pieces and set aside.
  3. Leave the oil and brown bits in the pan and add the butter. Let it melt over medium-low heat and use a metal spoon or spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan. Add the chopped spinach and rosemary and stir for a minute until the spinach starts to wilt.
  4. Add cream, garlic, lemon pepper & salt. Let it come to a low boil, then reduce heat. Simmer for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce starts to thicken.
  5. Add the parmesan while on low heat, then bring it to medium. Stir continuously for about 2 minutes until the sauce is smooth. Remove from heat, return the chicken to the sauce, then the pasta, and toss until well incorporated. Serve immediately.

If you can’t fit all the chicken and pasta in the sauce pan, you can pour the sauce over everything in your drained pasta pot. I just prefer only getting one pot all sauced up.

My husband wasn’t too excited about the spinach at first, but with all that creamy, cheesy sauce, he was happy in the end. The spinach adds a nice little texture to the dish, and it’s a simple way to get some extra greens in. It almost makes fettucine alfredo a health food! (A girl can dream…)

The biggest secret for my recipe is using the same pan for the chicken and the sauce. All those brown bits and juices that get incorporated into the butter as the base of the sauce create so much flavor. Between that and the rosemary, the finished dish actually has a faint scent of a whole roasted chicken. I feel like a lot of restaurants just throw in bland, unseasoned chicken in with their pasta and hope the sauce covers it up. My way has everything working together, and it’s pretty darn tasty. My wary husband actually said this was the best fettucine alfredo I had ever made.


Ready for the close up

Like I said in the recipe, this makes two big bowls. For a table of 3 or 4 people, you could actually just add a second chicken breast to bulk it up a bit, then serve this in smaller portions with a salad and garlic bread. Feel free to double up the recipe if you have a big family, just know that this isn’t great for leftovers, so I try not to make more than I need at a time. You can absolutely save it, it will be fine, but fettucine alfredo is always best right off of the stove because the sauce separates over time and loses its creamy texture.

Let me know if you try out this, or any other Picky Gourmet recipes. I love seeing pictures and getting feedback! I hope everyone has a great 4th of July weekend. I know I will. Make sure to follow me on Instagram & Twitter to see my foodie adventures in Vegas!