straddling the seasons: baked pasta

though it's technically spring, march in portland is still pretty schizophrenic. random hail storms and frigid nights are not uncommon this time of year—hence, my non-stop cravings for baked pasta. baked pastas can be inherently heavy, so to offset that and pay homage to the new season, i doctored mine up with fennel and artichokes.

baked pasta with fennel and artichokes

8 oz. pasta (elbows or shells are best here)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 bulb of fennel, sliced very thin (stalks removed, fronds reserved)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes with basil
1 15 oz. can artichoke hearts, packed in water
1 cup fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup grated cheese (mozzarella and cheddar both work)

cook pasta until al dente and set aside. in a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. once heated, add diced onion and sliced fennel and cook for about five to ten minutes, or until slightly browned. next, add garlic, salt and crushed red pepper. cook for another two minutes or so, stirring to prevent the garlic from burning. add spinach and cook just until it begins to wilt. next, pour in can of crushed tomatoes and simmer the sauce for about ten minutes.

meanwhile, preheat your oven to 450 degrees f. drain, rinse and chop the artichoke hearts and add them to the sauce once it finishes simmering. add pasta to sauce, turn heat down to low and stir to combine everything. pour pasta and sauce into a baking dish, sprinkle with cheese and the reserved fennel fronds. bake dish for about ten minutes, then turn oven to the broil setting and broil for about three minutes (or until the cheese is bubbling and browned).

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