This week's much-anticipated Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe was Four Cheese Baked Penne, chosen by Lindsey of 71 Cookbooks. I have been waiting for this one. We are big baked pasta eaters here at my house. It's basically my go-to meal, one of the first things I learned how to cook, and one of my childhood comfort foods. I figured I was going to be in for a big treat.
Of course, it seems I never follow one of Ellie's recipes exactly, and this one was no different. Instead of using all four of the cheeses Ellie did, I omitted the cottage cheese and made up the difference by using extra ricotta. I had rigatoni on hand, not penne, so that was the pasta I used. Otherwise, I did follow the recipe just as written. I also decided to make the salad that accompanies the pasta in her cookbook, but I did not use romaine hearts as she indicates. Instead, I made a spinach salad with all the other ingredients in her recipe.
I have to be honest. I wasn't totally blown away by this meal. I did really enjoy it, but the pasta dish definitely needed a little something extra. I think for me, I like the baked pasta to be saucier, as in tomato sauce. When I usually make it, it has about twice the tomato sauce and I normally use enough crushed red pepper flakes to give it a bit of a kick. However, I wanted to follow Ellie's method because 1) I'm always up for trying something her way, because her way is probably healthier, and 2) if I had followed my instincts and added more sauce, it would have ended up being my version of baked pasta and not Ellie's anymore! Oh well. I'm glad I know for sure now that I like it the tried and true way.
As for the spinach salad, it was tasty. I felt like the dressing, which was simply lemon juice, oil, salt, pepper, and oregano, was a bit too acidic. I made the same salad the next evening with the pasta leftovers, except with white balsamic vinegar in place of the lemon juice. What a difference that made! We loved the balsamic version, probably because it was slightly sweeter and far less tart. I really did love how the salty kalamata olives offset the sweet red onions so nicely. It was a pleasant surprise.